The U.S. winter wheat harvest has made rapid progress during the past couple of weeks aided by mostly favorable weather. Combining also was sped along because the winter wheat area being harvested this year, forecast at 25,760,000 acres, was the smallest in records extending back to 1909. The spring wheat harvest was yet to begin, but drought across western sections of the northern Plains reduced production prospects in a year when the protein provided by spring wheat will be critically important to bakers whose products require protein in flour that hard red winter wheat alone may not be able to provide.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture indicated the winter wheat harvest was 67% completed by July 9 compared with 53% a week earlier and 65% as the recent five-year average for the date.
Combining across the Southwest hard red winter wheat states was nearly completed, and harvesting was well under way in Colorado, Nebraska, South Dakota and even Montana. The USDA indicated the harvest was 93% completed in Kansas by July 9 (89% as the recent five-year average for the date), 97% in Oklahoma (97%), 97% in Texas (93%), 52% in Nebraska (38%), 47% in Colorado (42%), 14% in South Dakota (14%) and 1% in Montana (1%).
In its final harvest report of the year, the Kansas Wheat Commission said this year’s Kansas crop exhibited tremendous resiliency.
“From lack of moisture to a late-season snowfall, wheat for many farmers managed to cling on, produce bushels and show the value of modern wheat genetics,” the KWC said. “But other wheat acres weren’t as lucky with circumstances like visits from hail, the ‘big white combine (frost),’ and widespread wheat streak mosaic virus.”
Yields were better than expected across Kansas. The USDA on July 12 raised its estimate for average yield in the state to 47 bushels per acre compared with 44 bushels per acre as the June forecast. The 2016 Kansas wheat yield was a record 57 bushels per acre. The higher yield estimate for the current year resulted in a higher production estimate for the state. Kansas winter wheat production was estimated at 324.3 million bushels, up 20.7 million bushels from the June forecast but down 31% from 467.4 million bushels in 2016.
In contrast, the USDA lowered its yield forecast for drought-stricken South Dakota to 43 bushels per acre from 50 bushels per acre as the June projection. The average yield in South Dakota in 2016 was 58 bushels per acre. The lower yield forecast for the current year resulted in a lower production forecast for the state. South Dakota winter wheat production was forecast at 27.95 million bushels, down 11.05 million bushels from the June projection and down 56% from 63.8 million bushels in 2016.
Plains Grains, Inc. on July 7, on the basis of 203 of 530 expected new crop samples, indicated the average grade of 2017 hard red winter wheat was No. 1 hard red winter with average test weight of 60.4 pounds per bushel compared with 60.7 pounds per bushel as the 2016 crop average. But average protein was running low. Plains Grains indicated the samples taken from Texas, Oklahoma and southeastern Kansas harvests had an average protein of 11.3% compared with 11.2% as the 2016 crop average. Last year, the average hard red winter wheat protein was 12.3%, and the 2015 crop average was 13.3%.
Some sizable pockets of wheat with higher protein have been uncovered in northwest Kansas, roughly from Hayes north to the Nebraska border and west to the Colorado border, according to one veteran crop observer. But he cautioned outside of that area, as combining expanded into Nebraska and Colorado, protein seemed to be lower again.
Also, test weights of much of the higher-protein wheat harvested in northwest Kansas had relatively light test weights, partly because of the late-season snowfall and disease pressure.
It was too early to determine a crop average protein for Kansas. The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service indicated the state’s 2016 crop had an average protein of 11.7%. But millers pointed out the methods used to calculate average protein by both the USDA and private agencies fail to capture wheat retained by producers because of its very low protein. In other words, average protein of the crop may be lower than that indicated by samples entering marketing channels.
The Nebraska Wheat Board in its July 12 crop report indicated that harvesting in the northern panhandle has begun. Yields were averaging 35 to 40 bushels per acre, and test weights were averaging around 60 pounds. Protein was averaging 10.2% to 10.3%.
Harvesting in the southern panhandle was 75% completed.
“In fields that were affected by wheat streak mosaic virus (WSMV), reported yields are between 15 and 40 bushels per acre, test weights range from the low to upper 50s, and average protein is between 11% and 12%,” the NWB said. “In fields without WSMV, yields are higher, average test weight is between 60 and 62 lbs, and protein levels are between 9% and 10%.”
Protein across southwest Nebraska ranged from 9% to 12.5%, the board said. Protein in south central Nebraska was averaging from 10.5% to 11%. There were no reports on protein for southeast Nebraska as yet, the board said.
The soft red winter wheat harvest in the key Central states region was proceeding ahead of the average pace except in Michigan, where recent rain slowed progress. Combining by July 9 was 96% completed in Missouri (90% as the recent five-year average for the date), 95% in Illinois (86%), 78% in Indiana (67%), 77% in Ohio (49%) and 10% in Michigan (18%).
The quality of the wheat harvested across the South and Delta states wasn’t strong. Samples of new crop harvested in those regions had test weight below the level required for the average grade to be above No. 3 soft red winter. But as the harvest moved northward, wheat quality improved. U.S. Wheat Associates on July 7, on the basis of 199 of 300 expected samples, indicated that test weight was averaging 58.4 pounds per bushel (compared with 57.7 pounds a week earlier), which lifted the average grade of samples analyzed to date to No. 2 soft red winter.
As the Ohio harvest neared completion, millers there confirmed earlier observations that the state’s wheat quality was very good and similar to that seen in the 2016 crop, which should make for smooth transition to milling the new crop supply. One Ohio miller noted test weight across most of the state ranged from 59 pounds to 62 pounds per bushel with an average of about 60 pounds per bushel. He said falling number was good, and incidence of vomitoxin was very low. There were some concerns voiced about Michigan wheat quality in view of recent rain that slowed combining and may exact a toll on test weight.