WICHITA — Kansas farmers are expected to bring in the smallest winter wheat harvest in nearly three decades this year amid an ongoing drought that has stunted wheat fields across the state, according to estimates released Thursday.
Participants in the Wheat Quality Council’s winter wheat tour this year said Kansas growers will likely harvest 243.3 million bushels this season. The estimates are based on conditions they observed while inspecting crops in 644 fields across the state over the three-day tour that began Tuesday.
If the estimate proves true, the harvest would mark Kansas’ lowest wheat production since 1989. This year’s estimate is also far below the 333.6 million bushels of wheat cut last year in Kansas.
“The wheat is short in stature and it is going to be short in bushels,” said Aaron Harries, marketing director for the industry group Kansas Wheat. “A lot of wheat wasn’t very tall, either because it’s behind schedule or because drought caused the wheat to stunt. And because the wheat crop is short in stature, it is going to struggle to make bushels.”
Harries said wheat crops are usually waist-high, or roughly 4 feet (1.2 meters) tall.
“There are some fields 6 to 7 inches tall — how do you harvest that?” he said, adding that the tallest field he saw had crops about 20 to 24 inches (51 to 61 centimeters) high.
Wheat tour scouts also forecast an average yield statewide of 37 bushels per acre. That is well under the 48 bushels-per-acre average yield for wheat harvested in Kansas last year.
Winter wheat is planted in the fall and typically harvested beginning in June in Kansas. Drought conditions have plagued this year’s crop, and it remains to be seen whether the state will get enough moisture in the coming weeks to fill out the heads of wheat. Storms raked across parts of Kansas during the last days of the wheat tour.
On Monday, the National Agricultural Statistics Service reported that half of the Kansas wheat crop was in poor to very poor condition. About 37 percent was rated as fair, while 12 percent was rated good and 1 percent excellent. Just 2 percent of the crop had headed, well behind 41 percent last year and 24 percent average for this late in the season.
The federal government won’t release its own forecast until May 10, when it estimates production of the U.S. wheat crop.