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After Late Spring, Then Drought, Spring Wheat Yield/Quality a Surprise

Mary Kennedy
By  Mary Kennedy , DTN Basis Analyst
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Spring wheat harvest in North Dakota dragged on, starting in early August and not finishing until late September. Quality and yield reports of spring wheat and durum were mixed after a variety of weather conditions between planting to harvest. (Photo courtesy of Quentin Sears)

A late-April snow in North Dakota, northwest Minnesota, Montana and parts of South Dakota left many farmers concerned about late planting of spring wheat and durum. By the end of June, it turned hot and dry, causing some early-planted wheat to mature too fast and later-planted wheat to look stressed. I went back to most of the farmers and elevator managers I had spoken to in the spring and asked them how their crop ended up. Many farmers were surprised at how their crop turned out, while there were some who had weather issues with part of their crop.

In my June 26 story (…) about the concern from farmers about the long planting season and the hot and dry summer, Quentin Sears, Minnewaukan, North Dakota, said, "Spring wheat will not be getting fungicide as we are completely headed out at 12- to 18-inch height. Has only been seeded for 30 days and had under 1 inch of moisture. Very sad story on all the grain in central North Dakota as we started with a great stand, but the heat just pushed everything along too fast."

Fast forward to September and Sears said, "Spring wheat harvest had some surprises! Overall, a very good year given the amount of rainfall, we had yields from 35 to 95 bushel per acre (bpa) within five miles of each other. Quality was OK. Test weight seemed to hold 60 pounds plus but protein was very limited this year. We saw anything from 10% to 14.5% protein. Something interesting in our area this year was an increase in acres for the variety Beardless wheat. This specific variety in our area was very susceptible to rust this year. If it was not sprayed with a fungicide, people saw test weight dip below 50 pounds and protein under 10%! With fungicide, it hovered around 59 pounds and under 10% protein."

Darrin Schmidt, eastern North Dakota, said his yields were surprising. "We had from average on low-rainfall ground to an over average where we had more rain. Really didn't make sense, but I've never been good at forecasting wheat yields either. It was dry during harvest, so everything came off in good condition (62-65 pounds test weight), just took longer than usual to dry down by a few days. Protein was below average (14%) but generally even for our farm in that 13% to 14% range."

Schmidt said he also heard of some "really low" protein in the 9% to 11% range that was the Beardless variety. "That's probably good for nothing more than feed I would guess. From what I hear, they have no intention on of raising it again because it's going to be hard to market with that low of protein."

Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC in Enderlin, North Dakota, said, "Winter wheat harvest started July 21 and spring wheat harvest finished Sept. 28. The wheat quality was good with test weights 61-62 pounds, 14.1% protein. Our first spring wheat harvest was the poorest yields, but better than expected in the low 40 bpa to mid-50s. This was the third year in a row that the early-planted wheat was the poorest. When we got to the May 20 planting and later, the yields improved, and we started to see 70-plus bpa. The dagger in the wheat is that the price has dropped over $1.25 per bushel since the first of August. Plus, not enough was forward contracted. The extra bushels will help but now the market has really reduced the profit margin. Interest costs are 4-5 cents a bushel per month too. Can't stop the Russians from selling and shipping wheat."

"We only had one quarter of spring wheat this year. It's how it worked in the rotation," said Kerry Baldwin, Hope, North Dakota. "We didn't have a lot of rain during the summer, but the yields were the best we've had. Test weight was 63 to 64 pounds, but the protein was 12% to 13.5%. I was very satisfied with it."

Peter Ness, Sharon, North Dakota, said, "We had pockets of spring wheat that some of it was average and some of it was above average. Quality was good with test weight 60-63 pounds and 13% to 15% protein. I'm not sure how we ended up with above average for how all the crop looked this season!"

"Alton trade area was really dry last fall but had good snow cover that melted with very little run off," said Cory Tryan, grain manager Alton Grain Terminal, LLC in Hillsboro, North Dakota. "That gave us pretty nice planting conditions and crops went in about a week later than normal. We were dry again all summer but caught a couple timely rains. Some agronomists were telling guys at heading that it probably wasn't worth applying fungicide. Most were hoping for an average yields or little less but were surprised with yields 20-30 bushels above expectations. Yields were a wide range of 40-100 bpa with the overall average falling around 75-80 bpa. Wheat filled well and came off with good quality factors other than the average protein being half a point less than normal."

Peter Bakkum, Mayville, North Dakota, said that "Yields were better than expected finishing average to a little above average. Protein around average and test weights were great, all low 60 pounds. Very surprising considering how short and thin the crop was all year, along with the intense heat and dryness early in the season. Sometimes you have the thick straw for a bumper crop and the heads turn out to be empty. This year was the opposite. It took a while for the crop to dry down as we had so many humid, foggy, and dewy days in August."

Jeremy Burkhart, president of North Dakota Grain Dealers Association, said, "Durum yields were a little lower around the Minot area than what we saw in spring wheat. Seems like durum just didn't handle the drier weather as well as the spring wheat did. Spring wheat yields for the most part were around 50-70 bpa, while durum was around 45-50 bpa. The quality to start out was excellent, but color washed out as we had a few rain showers during harvest. But, overall, yields were OK, and quality was good."

"We've been done with durum for a number of weeks now," said Kim Saueressig, McCluskey, North Dakota. "For the most part, yields came in mid- to upper-50s bpa across all of our acres and am really happy with that. Hard count is hard to get a grasp on. We did have about 300 acres that had gotten more rain on it than other areas when the crop was ready, and those numbers were coming in at upper 60s and lower 70s. The rest of all the fields and bushels with good color have decent numbers. 'Yellow Bellies' (softer, plumper kernels that didn't finish the final development stage into hard, vitreous kernels) seem to be a little more prominent than other years and I think that's keeping our numbers a little lower than we'd like. Seems like years with higher yield that becomes a problem. Also been hearing others with the same issue keeping hard counts lower. Falling numbers have been anywhere from 320 to 425 and so far, we are happy with that."

Bryan Larson, Williston, North Dakota said, "My early durum only yielded 20-30 bpa, with high protein and good color. We're still waiting on the late-seeded durum to ripen (about 850 acres). Looks like the yield will be better but we won't know until we get into it. It might be a week to 10 days out and we have cooler temps coming. We received about .7 of rain this past weekend, but there's enough green in it that we think the quality is still OK, as long as the frost stays away for the foreseeable future!"

"I can tell you from what we saw from the combine and what we hauled in was slightly above average yields, slightly below average test weight, and above average protein," said Riley Schriefer, Golden Valley, North Dakota. "Ninety-one percent of our wheat was TCG Spitfire variety. The rain was really spotty and we got dinged by a little hail in spots. Combining was super tough and drawn out due to the wet August we had."

Over in Montana, a grower in northeastern Montana who grows wheat, yellow peas, chickpeas, and mustard said, "The wheat crop was very good around here in the middle and to southern McCone County. But there were also some shorter-yield stories as well. On our acres, spring wheat test weight on fallow ran in the 55- to 62-pound range and proteins ran 13.8% to 15.7%. Most spring wheat yields are in the 22- to 42-bpa range. Ours was better due to more spring wheat on fallow than most of our neighbors. The noticeable telltale sign of a good to great crop is piles of grain on the ground and there are none. So, a strong crop, not a real bin buster. All the crops around here other than spring wheat are being sold to take advantage of the better prices and fair yields to raise the necessary cash. Here in eastern Montana, acres of spring wheat were the lowest in 20, maybe even 30 years. Spring wheat is on a downward track until diseases take away our pulse crops."

"We farm and ranch near Whitewater Montana," said Kyle Wasson. "We grow a variety of spring wheat, yellow peas and barley. The spring wheat varied with earlier seeded about 35- t0 43-bpa average, while the later seeded ran 25 bpa. We started seeding late due to still having snow on the ground until April 26. Our test weight was 58-60 pounds and protein was all over the charts at 12.4%-17.0%. All our spring wheat is in re-crop land. There was good crop and bad crop, and our last-seeded acres were not even harvested, and insurance adjusted it 2 bpa. We left 1,000 acres standing and harvested around 6,000 acres of spring wheat. One more rain and we would have had an above average year."

In South Dakota, Tim Luken, Manager Oahe Grain, Onida, South Dakota, said, "Western South Dakota was blessed all season long with good rains. During the second week of August, we picked up additional 1- to 2-inches of rain that slowed us down for couple days as Mother Nature picked up the heat the rest of the week. Our early harvest saw better yields, which surprised most guys and I heard anywhere from 20- to 50-bpa and lots of yields in the 30s. We took in an average test weight of 62.3 pounds and 13.3% protein during the last week of July and 60.1 pounds and 15% protein through the second week of August. During the last of harvest, the week of Aug. 21, we saw quality changed and saw some Red Spring Wheat. North of here in the Gettysburg area they still had a week to 10 days to go, but yields were much better in the 45- to 60-bpa range. Our average grade overall was test weight of 59.1 pounds and 15.1% protein. Producers were surprised on some fields with yields being better than anticipated."

Ryan Wagner, Roslyn, South Dakota, said, "We started spring wheat harvest on July 31 and finished up Aug. 21, and it was one of our best yielding wheat crops ever. Yields in the area were variable and highly dependent on soil type and rainfall. Our early harvested wheat had a nice deep red color, but we got an inch of rain Aug. 6 and another 4.5" of rain on Aug. 13 that caused it to lose that color, but the quality was still very good even after the rains. I have heard of a few places docking for color, which isn't an official grade factor for the aristocrat of wheat, but we didn't see that on any assembly sheets here. Test weights were well over 60 pounds, protein was a bit lower than we'd like to see in the 13s, but that is typical for a high-yielding crop. I was concerned about falling numbers after all the rain we had after the crop matured, but every load that went to town along with others that we binned and tested independently were all over 300, so I don't think there will be anything to worry about there."

In Minnesota, Vance Johnson, Breckenridge, said, "This year's spring wheat crop, turned out to be one of my better wheat crops in the last nine years. It came in right at about my APH, which was a bit surprising for as late as it was put in, and for as dry as we were all season. Our proteins were respectable too for the year."

Matthew Krueger, East Grand Forks, Minnesota, said, "Wheat harvest had its ups and downs. Nothing to brag about but a lot better than it looked on most of our acres. We had one field that couldn't catch a rain all summer and it showed, only running 60 bpa, which given all things, wasn't as bad as it looked like it was going to be. Quality was amazing with protein 15%-plus all year and solid test weights too. It's the life of a farmer! We can do the best we can but trust the Lord with the rest. Overall, we came in at 93% of forecasted spring yield."

"Harvest 2023 was a long, drawn-out affair. The straw ripened on time, but the kernels and some heads stayed green. Once we did get going, we were stopped with a week of light sprinkles, unseasonable cool weather and high humidity. Smoke from Canadian wildfires kept the sun from shining," said Tim Dufault, Crookston, Minnesota, board member Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council. "But even with all those weather conditions the quality of this year's spring wheat crop in northwest Minnesota was fantastic. Test weights all 60 pounds or better and really good protein levels too; I haven't heard of many under 14%. Millers will be very happy with this crop."

Dufault added, "Yields were all over the board. It just came down to if that field got a timely shot of rain or not. I have heard comments from producers that this was one of their best wheat crops and others are calling their crop insurance agents to report a loss."

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