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Clean wheat shows bin-busting potential

Yields averaged 129.9 bushels per acre in south-central Pennsylvania during a recent tour.

The local wheat crop hasn’t crossed the finish line yet, but early indications show a really good crop — one that could bust some bins across the region.

A group of more than a dozen people who walked wheat fields in Berks, Lancaster and Lebanon counties in Pennsylvania found a crop that was mostly clean of fusarium head blight, and other disease and pest issues, although some fields showed more disease and pest pressure than others.

Del Voight, Extension educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, says the average yield was calculated at 129.9 bushels per acre — the low was 120.5 bushels; the high was 147.8 bushels.

Crop height ranged anywhere from 26 inches to 44 inches, while heads per foot ranged from 31.25 to 67.75. Most of the crop was in the milking stage, which is considered the first step in the crop’s maturity.

Mark Sultenfuss, crop insurance agent with Nagel Farm Service in Wye Mills, Md., helped lead a tour across six counties on Delmarva.

“There were nine wheat varieties. We saw some frost damage, severe to slight,” Sultenfuss says. “There is overall low scab present, but occasionally there are fields with moderate infestation. All received a head scab application. One was done by airplane; the rest was with ground application.”

Most yield estimates were between 90 and 100 bushels per acre, although some fields averaged more than 100 bushels per acre, and some fields averaged less than 80 bushels per acre — so the yield range was wide.

John Sutton of Sutton Trading Group in Ambler, Pa., organizes the annual wheat tour in cooperation with Cooperative Extension, farmers, and regional and local millers. Representatives from Arden Mills, ADM, Snavely’s Mill Inc. and others attended the tour

“I just think it's been a very good educational tour," Sutton says. “It's a good way for flour millers to talk to farmers and connect. The flour millers find out what the farmers’ problems are.”

Sutton himself saw wheat growing on the Eastern Shore, meeting with four farmers who talked about their growing practices, varieties planted and other things they did in the fields.

“We really got a lot of good information. The wheat looks, I would say, above average,” he says. “There were fields where there was some lodging. We saw one field that had not been sprayed at all that had a good bit of scab in it.”

A couple of growing practices stood out to Sutton. On one farm in Maryland, a grower talked about their use of an overhead sprinkler system to get extra water and nutrients on the crop right around flowering.

Another grower, he says, talked about having success preventing fusarium head blight (scab) through conventional tillage rather than drilling the crop in a no-till system.

Crop catching up

Barley and wheat got off to a slow start this spring, largely because of the cold, wet conditions of the early part of the season, but it appears the crop has largely caught up in most areas, which is critical for timing of double-crop soybeans.

The most recent Crop Progress Report showed 64% of the wheat crop in Maryland is coloring, ahead of the five-year pace of 41%. Delaware’s wheat crop is 62% coloring, ahead of the five-year average of 48%.

Pennsylvania’s wheat crop, however, is still slightly behind with 63% of the crop heading, behind the five-year average of 81%.

The wheat crop in Michigan is 52% heading, well-behind last year’s pace of 81%, but about average for this time of year. Ohio’s wheat crop is 86% heading, according to the Crop Progress Report, which is also about average.

Weather concerns

Ray VanHorn is growing 800 acres of winter wheat this season on his farm in Mount Gilead, Ohio, and while it still has a few weeks to go — he usually is ready to harvest by late June or early July — he thinks his crop looks good. But he’s concerned about how more wet weather will affect crop quality, even though he’s using more fungicides this season.

“With all the moisture we’ve been having, I think we’re going to run into some quality issues, especially if we keep getting these rains,” VanHorn says.

Some of his farmer friends in the northwest part of the state will struggle getting a quality wheat crop harvested this year. According to an article in Ohio’s Country Journal, more than 5 inches of rain fell over already saturated areas in the northwest part of the state, flooding fields and likely forcing producers to replant corn and soybeans. It’s also likely ruined a lot of the wheat crop.

And then there is Ukraine and other world events that have VanHorn on edge, not to mention the rising cost of fuel to fill up his trucks and farm machines.

“I’m not the only one on edge right now; that’s for sure,” he says.

Do your own yield calculation

If you want to calculate your own wheat yields, it’ll take a little bit of time and some math, but it’s not impossible.

Del Voight, Extension educator with Penn State Cooperative Extension, says that he uses a method developed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln that calculates the number of heads per foot in a row, the average number of kernels per head; and then dividing by the row space.

Here’s the step-by-step process:

1. Count number of heads per foot in five different areas of a field, then calculate the average.

2. Average the number of kernels per head from at least five heads at each site. This involves multiplying the number of spikelets per head by the number of kernels per spikelet.

3. Measure the distance in inches between the rows.

The formula is number of heads per foot multiplied by number of kernels per head, divided by row space and multiplying by 0.48. This should give you an average yield in bushels.

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