Farmer Nathan Larson said his wheat crop turned out better than he expected.
“It ended up being about 53 bushels per acre, and the test weight was good, so I was pleased,” Larson said.
Larson, like many Kansas agricultural producers, just finished up his wheat harvest this past week. According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service, 62% of the Kansas wheat crop was harvested as of July 4. That figure is behind 75% for 2020, and 72% for the five-year average. The Kansas Wheat Commission reports the statewide wheat crop condition ratings this past week were at 65% “good to excellent,” with 23% of the crop stated in “fair” condition and 12% “poor to very poor.”
Larson farms about 220 acres of wheat in Riley and Clay counties. He said his harvest results all netted test weights over 60 pounds, and that he was “surprised that the wheat looked beautiful.”
“The heads were big and green,” Larson said. “I rubbed a couple heads between my hands, and thought it wasn’t going to be as good, but it was all over 60 pounds (test weight).”
Test weight refers to the measure of the weight of grain that can fit in a standard volume — in this case, as pounds per bushel — and is a way to indicate wheat quality. For Larson, a 60-pound test weight is good. He said he cut his small acreage just outside of Clay Center first, and that’s where his “expectations were a little lower.” His other parcel of land is about three and three-quarter miles west of Riley, or just a mile away from the Fort Riley tank gunnery range.
“So, I get all the noise,” Larson said.
Larson, who farms by himself since his father died, said he had some help from his uncle in getting wheat cut and harvested before more rainfall arrived.
“With two combines … we got it done real quick,” Larson said. “I know some people out in central and western Kansas had to stop for rain, but we never had a rain once we got started.”
Larson said the lack of interrupting rains was one reason why his test weight was higher, and he said he was “blessed to have no rainfall during harvest.”
Meanwhile, west of Council Grove and north of the small community of Wilsey in Morris County, farmer Daryl Strouts said he is almost finished with his wheat harvest. He said it’s been “kind of an average year for us.”
“Yields are probably in the 40s to low 50s (bushels per acre),” Strouts said. “Nothing spectacular but not horrible either.”
Strouts farms about 600 acres of family-owned cropland; both he and Larson do not irrigate their wheat. Strouts, who also works for the Kansas Wheat Alliance, said it was almost Thanksgiving last year before his wheat began showing signs of life.
“It didn’t look good all winter, but we had really good rains in March, which helped,” Strouts said. “Then we had good moisture in May. What looked pretty bleak in winter has turned out to be a pretty good crop.”
Strouts said part of the challenge with harvesting wheat this year was the late season rainfall. He said grain moisture needs to be down to 12% or 13% for it to be harvestable. Wheat stocks are often “too tough” to cut in early morning humidity.
“You figure, if the humidity is above 50%, the wheat crop isn’t going to dry out, so you need the air humidity to dry out for the wheat to dry out,” Strouts said. “Often, we couldn’t get started (cutting) until about 1 in the afternoon, and would have to quit by 7 or 8 p.m.”
Strouts said he planted a variety of wheat called “Zenda.” Developed by Kansas State University researchers, he said this particular variety is “well adapted” to this area of northeast Kansas and is resistant to the typical wheat diseases seen in Kansas.
“It’s produced a consistent yield over the past couple of years,” Strouts said.
Strouts planted a test plot with 14 different varieties of wheat in 2-acre strips of land. In cooperation with K-State, and using a small 5-foot wide combine harvester, Strouts said he cut small plots to calculate what each of those varieties is yielding individually.
“That gives us an idea of what might work best in this area,” Strouts said. “We’re always trying to figure out what might work best. A lot of farmers will do that — buy a little bit of a new variety and test it.”
Larson said he only planted the “Chrome” wheat variety this year. A new wheat introduced about three years ago, Larson said he thought the “Chrome” variety might have better disease resistance than other varieties.
“I’m going to run it back next year, until it lets me down,” Larson said. “We didn’t have any stripe rust problems with it. … I don’t think I had much disease pressure on my wheat.”
A member of the Kansas Wheat Commission, Larson said he did not apply any fungicide to his wheat, while his uncle did, and that his crops are “100% no till.” The “Chrome” variety has a blueish-green color to it, and Larson said he can easily pick it out from other varieties.
Strouts said he feels “pretty good” if his wheat yields about 45-50 bushels per acre. He said the soil he farms on “isn’t necessarily the best,” but for the way he manages his soil, and for the production he gets out of it, he “feels good about the 45-50 bushel per acre range.”
“So far it’s been pretty decent,” Strouts said. “You’re always hopeful when you farm, always waiting on the next rain.”
Larson said last year’s wheat harvest was “probably one of my best on record” with 70 bushel-per-acre wheat reported. He said that’s only the second time in his life that he’s come in at 70 bushels per acre.
“That was a hard wheat, but it tested soft, which caused problems for the grain elevators,” Larson said. “Now we’re back to 50 bushels per acre this year. … That’s fairly average around here.”