More than 60 people from across the nation are expected to participate in the annual Hard Wheat Quality Tour of Kansas wheat fields, May 3-6. This is expected to be the largest in the 40-plus year history of the tour, says Ben Handcock, executive director of the Wheat Quality Council.
 
"The Wheat Tour provides a service to the entire wheat industry. It gives us a heads-up on what kind of crop we'll see this harvest season, at least as of early May," Handcock says.
 
Participants gather in Manhattan for an orientation session May 3, and spend the next three days traveling via motor vehicle to Colby, Wichita and Kansas City, taking different routes along the way. Each evening, participants describe the crop conditions and average expected yield using a formula developed by Kansas Agricultural Statistics. Representatives from Colorado and Nebraska will give updates on those crops at the Colby stop and in Wichita, a status report will be given on the Oklahoma wheat crop. On the tour's final day, a wrap-up session is held at the Kansas City Board of Trade, where a final yield estimate is determined. Fifteen carloads of participants, each of which includes a tour veteran to help train the novices, will make more than 500 stops throughout the state.
 
This year's tour participants include farmers, government employees, grain merchandisers, bakers, flour millers and international customers, Handcock says.
 
"Having international customers on the tour is a huge deal. We're teaching all these participants what it takes to grow a wheat crop in the United States, from how much money is required to grow a crop, to the risks involved," he explains. "Many of the tour participants deal with wheat or wheat-related issues in their professions, yet they may not have ever seen a field of wheat. This tour provides a great opportunity for them to gain a greater understanding of the industry." 
 
With interest in wheat production, milling and processing at an all-time high due to renewed interest in the industry by private wheat breeders, the annual tour provides a unique perspective of the state's most important industry, says Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of Kansas Wheat.
 
"This is a chance for the industry to get together and learn about crop production and all facets of the entire wheat industry," Gilpin explains. "It is a terrific educational and networking opportunity for the participants."
 
Throughout the tour, participants will stop at historic sites, points of interest and local restaurants, Handcock says. "The tour has a positive economic impact on rural Kansas," he says.
 
For more information on the Wheat Quality Council Hard Winter Wheat Tour, contact Kansas Wheat at 1-866-75-WHEAT or log onto www.wheatqualitycouncil.org.