Wheat harvest could start early, weather permitting

Some fields ahead of schedule, but farmers hope for better weather to add yield.

Participants survey a field during this weeks Southern Illinois Wheat Tour hosted by the Illinois Wheat Association. (Photo by Daniel Grant)
Participants survey a field during this week's Southern Illinois Wheat Tour hosted by the Illinois Wheat Association. (Photo by Daniel Grant).
By Dan Grant

Wheat harvest could begin a little early in parts of southern Illinois.

But that doesn’t mean yield potential will be cut short.

It just all depends on the weather pattern the next few weeks, according to participants of the Southern Illinois Wheat Tour hosted by the Illinois Wheat Association (IWA).

“We are a good week ahead of an average year,” said Jim Fraley, IWA executive director. “Our observations (on the annual tour) showed a very promising wheat crop.”

The majority of the wheat crop (94 percent) headed as of the first of this week, 17 percent ahead of the average growth pace in the state, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office.

“Things for us are looking excellent. Our tillers and head sizes are good, and disease pressure is pretty low,” said Matt Krausz, a wheat grower from New Baden (Clinton County), whose farm last year produced the winning entry of 131.45 bushels per acre in the Illinois Wheat Yield Contest.

“We’re probably a week or two ahead of schedule,” he noted. “It all depends on the weather. If it gets warmer, it (harvest) could be sooner. If not, it probably will be a little later.”

The weather forecast calls for a continuation of cool, damp weather through May before temperatures could warm back into the 80s by early June.

Wheat tour participants noted a wide range of potential yields last week, from 32.5 to 103.4 bushels per acre. The tour average, 61.1 bushels, came in well below USDA’s state yield estimate of 73 bushels per acre.

But there’s still time to add to yields.

“The cool weather, with a lot of sunshine, has a chance to boost yields down the stretch by giving us a longer grain-fill period,” John Ernst, Madison County wheat grower and IWA president, told the RFD Radio Network®.

That type of situation played out last year as the Illinois Wheat Tour projected an average yield of 63.5 bushels per acre for the 2016 crop. But late growth boosted the final yield to a state record of 74 bushels per acre.

“What wheat really needs now is sunny and hot conditions,” said Dale Wehmeyer of Wehmeyer Seed in Mascoutah.

If those conditions occur, Wehmeyer looks for an early harvest and possibly larger yields than predicted on the tour.

Wheat harvest typically begins around mid-June in southern Illinois. Those who wait for the full moon next month to start harvest will see it by June 9.

“As long as we harvest on time without rain, I’m optimistic we’re looking at a decent crop,” said Dave DeVore of Siemer Milling in Teutopolis.

“As for harvest time, three weeks ago, I’d say we’re a week to 10 days ahead,” he added. “But the cool weather really slowed it down. We’re currently looking at a more normal start date (in mid-June) around here (in southeast Illinois), maybe just two to three days ahead of schedule.”

Content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.

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