Spring Wheat Tour - Day 2

A Variable Wheat Crop Defies Bin-Buster Predictions

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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For the second day, scouts measured plants and counted wheat heads on the Wheat Quality Council's annual tour of the hard red spring wheat and durum crop in the Dakotas and Minnesota. (Photo courtesy Amanda Spoo, U.S. Wheat Associates)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- The second day of the Wheat Quality Council's Hard Red Spring and Durum Wheat Tour wrapped up with an average hard red spring wheat yield of 41.3 bushels per acre (bpa), up from 35.8 bpa last year.

The tour visited 135 spring wheat fields and 13 durum fields. Durum fields averaged 39.2 bpa, and the total all-wheat average yield for day two was 41.1 bpa, up from 35.7 bpa last year. That brings the tour's two-day average all-wheat yield to 40 bpa, up from 37.2 bpa last year.

While above last year's estimates, these numbers came in lower than expected, and tour organizer Dave Green said wide variability in wheat quality has taken the tour participants by surprise.

"We've been struggling the last two days with the fact that the government forecast a record crop and put out some of the best crop ratings in 25 years," he said. "It's not last year's crop for sure, but it's still a ways from a longtime record."

Last year, scouts on this leg of the tour found a crop hampered by severe drought and a high number of abandoned and hayed wheat fields. On Wednesday, scouts found a healthier crop as they wound their way through central and northwestern North Dakota, but variability was the word of the day.

"Yields ranged from 60 to 25 bushels," Green said of his route, which headed due north from Bismarck to Minot, before a sharp turn eastward to Devils Lake. "Everything was highly variable. Some fields were very short and kind of stressed and some look just fine."

The crop's rocky start to the season is likely to blame, said Jim Peterson, North Dakota Wheat Commission's policy and marketing director.

"We've been a little surprised that some of the yields aren't a bit more uniformly stronger across the state based on weekly crop condition ratings, but if you think of some challenges we had -- a lack of subsoil moisture and delayed planting and sporadic emergence -- it kind of makes sense," he said.

For Terry Selleck, whose route toured the heart of central North Dakota, wheat fields scouted on Wednesday were nonetheless a marked improvement from last year.

"We made 13 stops in spring wheat fields today and averaged 47 bushels," he said. "Last year, we averaged around 36 bushels, so that's up 11 bushels, which is kind of what I anticipated."

Wednesday's fields also looked better than the first day of the tour, which toured drier regions, such as northeastern South Dakota and southeastern North Dakota, he added. "It's getting better as we've gone farther north, and I hope that trend continues as we move into the northeast part of [North Dakota] tomorrow," he said.

The effect of a delayed and difficult planting season was clear to Amanda Spoo, communications specialist for U.S. Wheat Associates, who followed the same central route as Selleck.

"We'd see a field that was a week away from harvest and then a field five to six weeks away," she said. "As we moved more north, we saw more mature fields, but there was a pretty big range."

Most of the fields looked healthy, and her car's seven stops averaged 48.4 bpa, up from 40.2 bpa for that route last year.

"I thought the wheat looked pretty good -- we didn't see anything too alarming," she said. "For some of these less mature fields, it will really matter what happens with the weather in the next couple weeks. If they get too much moisture, they'll be more susceptible to damage."

Most scouts reported low disease and insect incidence, although this could be affected by the maturity of the crop, Green noted. "The crop's developing pretty fast and a lot of it is in its last stages, so it's difficult to assess diseases," he said.

On Thursday, the third and final day of the wheat tour, scouts will explore the northeastern corner of North Dakota as well as northwestern Minnesota before convening in Fargo to make the final yield estimates for the tour.

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

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Emily Unglesbee