Wheat tour estimates 306.5 million-bushel crop

The final tally of the 2019 Wheat Quality Council Hard Winter Wheat Tour, April 30 to May 2:

• 469 total stops in Kansas, Nebraska and Oklahoma;

• 74 participants; and

• 47.2 bushel-per-acre average estimated yield potential.

The tour participants estimated that the final tally at harvest based on the snapshot of the wheat observed on this three-day tour with all conditions favorable should reach 306.5 million bushels in Kansas.

But, as Kansas State University Extension wheat specialist Romulo Lollato observed, a lot can happen between now and harvest. Already, May 5 saw an outbreak of tornadoes and thunderstorms across much of the wheat-growing region of the state from Meade to Hutchinson. Meanwhile, May 6, the forecast called for more thunderstorms and baseball-sized hail in parts of much of western and southwestern Kansas.


K-State’s Lollato and Erick DeWolf spoke to the group before the tour started out on April 29. They spoke about the conditions that the wheat crop was planted in last fall, what diseases they might need to identify in the field, and how that might affect how the wheat yields at harvest.

Last October was the start of a very wet fall and winter, and some farmers planted their wheat extremely late, if they got it in at all. Aaron Harries, with Kansas Wheat, told the group that at 7 million acres, Kansas had the lowest planted acres recorded in 100 years. More acres may be abandoned between now and then based on the price of the wheat crop comparable to summer crops like corn, soybeans or even cotton. Plains Grains Executive Director Mark Hodges mentioned that many fields in Oklahoma, for example, are being terminated so that farmers can use the wheat residue as cover for cotton.


From Manhattan to Colby to Wichita and back to Manhattan again, participants saw the after effects of the planting delays last fall. With the heavy rains delaying soybean harvest, some fields were left to fallow over winter because farmers ran out of time to get their wheat in. Others delayed planting until later in October and this showed in the crop progress. The tour estimated that wheat harvest might be pushed back in parts of Kansas up to two weeks, if conditions remain favorable.

Participants didn’t see heavy disease pressure, but there was the presence of leaf and stripe rust in some fields to the south, septoria to the west, and even some barley yellow dwarf just beginning to be noticeable. Lollato warned that when the weather warms up, the conditions may be ripe for that rust to blow back up again. Farmers will have to decide if they have a long enough pre-harvest window to treat, or to let the crop be at that time.

Rain was the main story of the wheat tour this year. Participants were checking fields with more than adequate moisture, compared to last year on the same routes at the same time. This wet, cool weather is ideal in small doses for the wheat, but wheat doesn’t like “wet feet,” as Lollato explained to the tour. Some farmers might have to monitor for waterlogging in low parts of their fields, especially in the central part of the state.

Winter wheat, though, likes cool and wet Mays, which increase starch production in the plant and thus increase yield. Depending on the next 60 days, barring natural disasters, diseases and pests, Kansas farmers could see a decent crop. Of course, no one will know for sure until the wheat hits the elevator scales.

Other states

The Winter Wheat Tour focuses heavily on Kansas, but participants also see reports from Nebraska, Colorado and Oklahoma to get a broader picture of the wheat in the High Plains.

In Nebraska 1.1 million acres were planted, with yield estimates at about 44 bushels per acre, for a production estimate of 47.4 million bushels, just below last year’s actual 49.49 million-bushel crop. Of course, some of those acres will not be taken all the way to grain, with many being consumed by cattle for gain.

Colorado saw 2.3 million acres planted, with a production estimate of 46.5 bushels per acre and an estimated total of 97.2 million bushels. If realized, this would top last year’s 70.2 million bushel crop for the state.

Sign up for HPJ Insights

Our weekly newsletter delivers the latest news straight to your inbox including breaking news, our exclusive columns and much more.

Oklahoma’s crop report projects 3.19 million acres harvested, with an average of 37.38 bushels per acre. That would be an estimated total of 119.2 million bushels.

Listen to interviews with Romulo Lollato, Dave Green, Doug Bounds and other wheat experts on HPJ Talk.

Why do we still do this?

It’s a question that comes up from time to time from farmers following the tour online—why do we still do this?

There’s a two-fold reason to the Wheat Quality Council Winter Wheat Tour, explained tour organizer Dave Green, executive vice president of the WQC.

The primary purpose of the wheat tour is to take a snapshot look at the wheat condition, about the same week, along the same routes every year, explained Aaron Harries of Kansas Wheat. Remembering that the weather can throw a lot at the wheat crop and the snapshot may develop differently between the tour and harvest.

Tour participants stop at representative samples of fields along their assigned routes, and then take measurements including: height of plant, number of stems per foot, and planted row spacing. Those measurements are then inputted into a mathematical model developed by U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service, which accounts for the growth stage of the wheat, and in which third of the state the field is located. Doug Bounds, of the Manhattan, Kansas, USDA-NASS office walked the group through the procedure the evening before the tour set off from Manhattan to Colby.

There are six colored routes that the tour takes every year, taking into account the time it takes to measure fields, and the starting and ending points of each day of the tour. The routes stay the same from year to year in order to show the changes from year to year.

The secondary purpose, which has become more important as time goes on, is that the tour educates those in the “grain chain” about agriculture and how the crop is grown.

This year the tour saw 74 participants from every point in the grain chain, from milling to baking, from commodity brokers to government employees and even some producers. Green reminded that many people who work in the grain industry are three to four generations removed from the farm and rural America. This tour, he said, provides them a way to see and experience what rural farmers face in getting the crop from the field to their bins. 

Jennifer M. Latzke can be reached at 620-227-1807 or [email protected].