Kansas Wheat Tour is back: Scouters project higher than expected yields


GRAY COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) – After going virtual in 2020 due to the pandemic, the 63rd annual Hard Winter Wheat Evaluation Tour is back and in person. 

Nearly 45 people from 13 states are traveling across the region this week to see what this year’s wheat crop may bring come harvest time.

The group is traveling along six marked routes analyzing wheat fields throughout parts of Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma. Scouters stop every 15 to 20 miles to record crop conditions.

Wheat Tour Map, Courtesy: Kansas Wheat

Participants in the tour come from every facet of the wheat industry. There are bakers, millers, processors, traders, among others. According to Kansas Wheat, nearly half of this year’s participants had not been on the tour before and many had never stepped foot in a wheat field.

Tour alumni help guide new participants through the process of taking yield measurements. The formula comes from the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.

“It’s a really good opportunity to give a single snapshot in time to show what the potential of the wheat crop could be and then really tell the story of the American and Kansan farmer,” said Taylor Williamson, Kansas Wheat, Director of Governmental Affairs.

Thus far on this year’s tour, scouters are seeing higher yields than the USDA’s latest prediction of 48 bushels per acre. The average yield from the tour’s first day was 59.2 bushels per acre.

“Yields have been all over the board. We’ve seen yields estimated as low as 20 bushels per acre and as high as 85 bushels per acre. It just depends on the field,” said John Jenkinson representative for KSN TV, RFD TV, and Sirius XM Channel 147.

The overall development of the wheat is behind schedule and some acres show signs of disease such as Wheat Streak Mosiac as well as fungus variants of rust.

“What we’ve really been pleased about was some of the resistance that we’ve seen from those varieties from the farmers that are out spraying to try to prevent some of those rust issues. So I think right now, we’re in a really good spot,” said Williamson.

Tour alumni say they have seen farmers respond to the higher wheat market by investing in chemicals to treat rust.

“One of the things in visiting with farmers on the tour that we’ve talked a lot about this year is because of the increase in price, now that we are seeing $6.50 and $7.00 a bushel wheat, many farmers are taking that extra step and applying a fungicide so that we can maybe knock back some of these diseases some of this leaf rust and stripe rust and expect a good yield,” said Jenkinson.

Drought stress has also been noticed across many acres in far western Kansas. “It was so dry that some of that wheat was actually turning blue and going backward and starting to turn yellow and drop leaves, just before the rain. The rain will help some but it won’t bring back the yield potential that was once there,” said Jenkinson.

Scouters say one positive is the lack of expected freeze damage to the crop. “We didn’t see a lot of freeze damage. Maybe a little bit less than one percent,” said Jenkinson.

Both Williamson and Jenkinson say conditions and quality of the wheat could change between now and harvest time.

“If you don’t get timely rains we could see those yields start to tank a little bit. So, I think we’re sitting in a very good spot., I think things could get a little bit better, but usually, by this time, the only place they can go is south,” said Williamson. “So I think right now, given where we came from, we’re in a really good spot from the crop’s perspective.”

But overall, signs point to a good harvest for Kansas wheat farmers. As of the latest USDA report, 76% of the wheat crop is in fair or good condition. The tour will continue through Wichita Wednesday and end in Manhattan on Thursday.

For more information on the Wheat Tour as well as updates on the following days projections, click here.

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