2012 wheat harvest begins early for western states

Heather Hamilton
for Tri-State Livestock News
“Along the Interstate 94 corridor is possibly the best wheat crop I’ve ever seen, but after you get away from there the crops have experienced a lot of heat and drought deterioration, which will have an impact,” said Jim Bobb of Southwest Grain in southwestern North Dakota. Photo by Heather Hamilton
Photo by Heather Hamilton |

“Three weeks early.”

That’s the standard response when asked how winter wheat harvest is progressing across western states in 2012. Heavy test weights, average protein levels, varying yields and outside crop impacts have made 2012 a unique growing season.

The National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) listed 89 percent of South Dakota’s winter wheat crop ripe in their July 9 report. In North Dakota, NASS reported 85 percent of Durum wheat as headed, compared with 0 percent last year and 29 percent on average. Forty percent of North Dakota’s Durum wheat was in the milk stage, compared to 0 percent last year and 7 percent on average.

“Test cuttings will start this week, and normal startup is the last week of July, so we will be 10-15 days early this year, but (we) don’t have any information on this year’s crop yet,” said Jim Bobb of Southwest Grain in southwestern North Dakota. “Along the Interstate 94 corridor is possibly the best wheat crop I’ve ever seen, but after you get away from there the crops have experienced a lot of heat and drought deterioration, which will have an impact.”

To the south, South Dakota is more than 75 percent done with winter wheat harvest, with wrap-up expected around July 20 if there isn’t any rain according to Jerry Cope of Dakota Mill and Grain, headquartered in Rapid City.

“South Dakota is kind of split this year. You can go from Midland east and see yields that are above average, and I’ve heard of everything from 30-80 bushels per acre. As you go west of Midland toward Rapid City and the Wyoming line, we’ve been seriously dry all of last fall, winter and this spring, and we’re going to see that in our production, which is in the 25-30 bushel range. In the western fourth of the state I suspect we’ll be at about 50 percent of what we were a year ago,” Cope explained, noting those yields figures doesn’t include several fields that were zeroed out early, or lost in recent hail storms.

He continued, explaining that while total acres of wheat in South Dakota are down 10 percent for the year, the state average yield could be 30 percent higher, which would put gross yield at 45 million bushels. In comparison, the state saw a gross yield of 37.8 million bushels in 2011; 59.2 million bushels in 2010; and 64.7 million bushels in 2009.

“We expect a better year this year in terms of volume, test weights are up and very heavy at 62-plus pounds, and dockage is low. Protein is trending with the last two years and currently at just under 12 percent. We’ve also gotten very positive reports back from the early bake tests conducted at the flour mills,” Cope said.

Wyoming is sitting at 44 percent of its winter wheat harvested, compared to being 1 percent complete on average. Total production for the state this year is projected at 3.75 million bushels, close to 2003 production, which was also dry, and down roughly 15 percent from the 4.42 million bushels harvested in 2011.

“In talking to growers, folks are hoping to start on irrigated fields this week, and are three-quarters done with dryland,” noted Keith Kennedy, Executive Director of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission.

“It looks like dryland yields are going to average in the mid 20s right now. We’ve certainly seen yields below 20, but have had some over 30 too. I haven’t heard of any test weights below 60 pounds, and protein has been pretty consistent at around 12 percent,” Kennedy said. Two fields have recorded 14.8 percent protein levels, and one came in at 11 percent.

As 2012 progresses, Kennedy commented that one area of interest will be corn’s impact on wheat usage.

“Last year there was a fair amount of wheat used as feed rather than taken to the mill for flour. Earlier this year, USDA had decreased their estimates of the amount that would go to feed, but if corn continues to look like it will show up short, I’m sure there will be additional wheat going in that direction,” he explained.

Spring wheat performance is another factor in the overall picture for the 2012 wheat crop. South Dakota spring wheat in the Pierre area is currently testing heavy and showing protein around 14 percent. Cope expects those levels to drop farther west due to hot, dry conditions seen during critical growing days.

“My suspicion is there won’t be much of a spring wheat crop for Wyoming,” Kennedy agreed. “A lot of folks in northeast Wyoming where our spring wheat is grown have opted for haying it based on the dry conditions we’ve seen, and NASS doesn’t have any spring wheat numbers for us.”

Bobb is guessing North Dakota’s spring wheat to come in at average for the state as a whole, but notes it’s still early.

“It’s a unique year. We’ve had what I’ve termed ‘popcorn rains,’ where a cloud will hit here or there but we don’t get any general rains. Where those showers have occurred the crops look good, but you can drive a couple miles from those spots and it’s too dry. That, and the wind has just killed us so far,” Bobb stated, with agreement voiced from South Dakota and Wyoming. F