The 80 or so people who spent three days evaluating the progress of the 2016 Hard Red Winter Wheat crop are predicting a terrific harvest -- an average of 48.6 bushels to the acre and a predicted harvest of 382.4 million bushels. If realized, it would be the best Kansas harvest in a decade.
The third day of the annual Hard Red Wheat Quality Tour saw far fewer field stops than the first two days, a total of 49 fields sampled versus 306 on the first day's trek from Manhattan to Colby and 300 on the second day from Colby to Wichita.
The third day, Wichita to Manhattan, is abbreviated to facilitate a noon tour wrap-up and limited by the fact that there are fewer fields available for sampling because of the vast expanse of the Flint Hills in eastern Kansas.
Still, tour members did find good yields in their third day stops, coming up with an average yield forecast of 53.5 bushels from fields in south central and east central Kansas. Samples for Day 3 ranged from a low of 16 bushels per acre to a high of 90.
The annual tour takes place the first week of May. Tour participants include a core group of wheat professionals -- producers, Extension specialists, millers and commodity group members, and a large number of "first-timers," many of whom have never seen wheat growing in a field.
"It's a great opportunity for folks who are new to the industry to get a good education in what growing wheat is all about," said Wheat Commission CEO Justin Gilpin. "They may start out knowing nothing about wheat but by the end of Day 3, they have a pretty good foundation.”
This year's tour organizers expected to see foliar diseases -- stripe rust moved in early to hit a wheat crop that broke dormancy in mid-February. They did find some fields hit hard, but even more fields that had been treated with fungicide. In northern Kansas, aerial applicators were busy applying fungicide to that region's less-mature wheat.
They also expected to see some signs of early drought stress and damage from two hard freezes, one on March 19-20 and another on April 12.
They did see some of that stress, evident by shorter wheat and some spotty stands. But overall, the damage was much less than expected. Plentiful rain, beginning in early April, helped to mitigate much of the damage, Gilpin said.
Wheat harvest will likely be early this year, based on observations of the maturity of the crop, with some fields already in soft dough stage near the Oklahoma border. In most of the state, the crop is a week to two weeks ahead of normal.
Maturity of the crop could be slowed down if the wet, cool weather of April continues through May -- and there is rain in the forecast for the next 10 days. But lingering cool, wet weather that promises excellent grain fill also carries a threat.
"The last thing we want to see is cool, wet weather lasting long enough that it outlasts the effectiveness of the fungicide and lets the foliar diseases take over," said Kansas State University wheat specialist Romulo Lalatto.