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A tale of two seasons

RUGBY, N.D. Brian Sorenson of the Northern Crops Institute is encouraged by what he's been seeing as he and about 40 others in various sectors of the wheat industry visited crop fields in the Dakotas and Minnesota on this year's Hard Spring Wheat...

RUGBY, N.D. Brian Sorenson of the Northern Crops Institute is encouraged by what he's been seeing as he and about 40 others in various sectors of the wheat industry visited crop fields in the Dakotas and Minnesota on this year's Hard Spring Wheat and Durham Tour.

"They look pretty good," he said from a field a few miles east of Rugby in central North Dakota. "They seem to have weathered the challenges of the year. We had so much moisture, and then it dried up so fast, we had some root rot challenges since the plant didn't necessarily set the root structure it needed for dry weather."

This allows the plants to be stressed more easily by heat than if they had received more typical rainfall in the early part of the season, he said.

Ben Handcock, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, which sponsors this and the Hard Winter Wheat tours, is also encouraged.

"I think we've got a very nice crop," he said. "We didn't see any low yields out there. On my route today, the high yield was 51 (bushels per acre), and the low was 31."

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Compared with last year's drought-depressed counts, which were often calculated in the teens, this is a marked improvement. The durum numbers also look "pretty good," Handcock added.

The main goal of the tour, Sorenson says, is to be realistic.

"We don't look for the best fields. We want a random selection," he said. "We try and space them so we go about 20 miles and then start looking for another field. If we tried to pick the nice fields, that would be an over-estimation."

Each of the 10 carloads on the tour makes up a team. Everyone is briefed at the beginning of the tour as to the team's goals at each field. Liz Jayankura, a trade policy specialist for U.S. Wheat Associates in Washington, is on the tour to see for herself what farmers are faced with. The goal is to estimate projected yields.

"We measure the distance between rows, and write the number down," she said. "Then we measure off a (row) yard and count the heads."

As she counts the heads, she looks for signs of disease, then counts the spikelets, recording each of her findings.

"We repeat that two more times in a single field," she said.

All told, a team of three surveyors will take nine random samples in each field. These numbers are recorded and used at the end of each day to calculate yields. The final results are compiled in terms of overall weighted yield averages and posted on the WQC Web site www.wheatqualitycouncil.org , along with a narrative summary by Handcock.

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The numbers have been compiled by the WQC since 1992 in order to discern yearly change and trend analysis.

"It's not intended to say that the other crop estimates are wrong or right," Sorenson said. "It just gives another set of eyes out in the crops."

And what those eyes are seeing looks encouraging.

"I think this year's crop is kind of a tale of two seasons," he said. "We were wet, and then we got dry. . . but overall, I think we'll definitely see an increase over last year because we had such a drought. So we're still hoping for a good crop."

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