By MATTHEW D. ERNST
BELLEVILLE, Ill. — One hour and 15 minutes before the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) officially released its July Crop Production report last Thursday, David Marshall told an audience at Southern Illinois University’s Belleville Field Day the region’s wheat numbers had to increase.
“I would be astounded if USDA did not raise its soft red winter (SRW) wheat estimates, perhaps as much as 5 to 7 percent,” predicted Marshall, of Toay Commodity Futures Group, LLC, in Nashville, Ill.
The marketer’s projections proved prescient. Nationally, NASS stated SRW wheat production increased 5.9 percent from the June projection of about 509 million bushels. July’s estimate is nearly 539 million.
That seemed to come as no surprise to anyone else in the Belleville Field Day crowd, including Emerson Nafziger, professor of crop sciences at the University of Illinois in Urbana.
“We really got lucky this year,” said Nafziger, summarizing the Illinois wheat crop. “Illinois wheat went into dormancy last fall looking just okay. But by harvest, we were getting reports of very, very high yields.”
The average yield for this year’s wheat trials at Belleville was 81.9 bushels, and several field day attendees reported per-acre yields exceeding 100 bushels. Last week’s USDA numbers project average Illinois wheat yields at 65 bushels per acre, on 820,000 acres harvested. That is a large increase over the 645,000 acres Illinois harvested in 2012.
Large winter wheat increases were also reported for Ohio (680,000 compared to 450,000 acres); Indiana (430,000 acres, up from 300,000); Tennessee (490,000, up from 340,000) and Kentucky (580,000 acres compared to 470,000 harvested last year). A 50,000-acre increase is estimated for Michigan winter wheat harvested this season.
Like almost everything else this spring, the weather tells the story of higher SRW wheat yields and acreage. “One of the very different things in southern Illinois for this season was that wheat had been planted last fall on corn ground that had failed,” explained Nafziger. “That meant wheat was planted earlier than usual. And we had probably enough nitrogen in the (corn) ground to grow the whole wheat crop.”
Most producers, he said, still applied normal levels of nitrogen to wheat, responding to the region’s high winter and spring precipitation. Still, higher acreage and adequate fertility does not always translate to more production, especially in wet conditions that can promote disease.
Nafziger explained area rains came at near-perfect timing for the area’s wheat crop. “In southern Illinois, we saw wheat flowering in between the deluges of rain,” he said. “So, we didn’t get very much wheat scab.” Central Illinois, he noted, was not so lucky with avoiding scab.
A predictable downside to the region’s wet conditions was some poor wheat quality. “Wet conditions after ripening affected quality and test weight,” said Nafziger. “Wheat test weight was initially okay, but wet and dry cycles brought it down where harvest was delayed.”
Some Illinois producers reported sprouting resulted in price docks of $1-$1.50 per bushel.
Marshall said higher wheat prices prompted producers to justify spending more on yield-promoting inputs. Such inputs include fungicides, foliar pesticides and added nitrogen that helped raise the region’s yields.
While the Eastern Corn Belt’s bumper wheat crop helps offset lower wheat yields in the West, this year’s higher SRW production will not bump up national totals. Last week’s USDA report projects the total U.S. wheat crop in 2013 at 2.11 billion bushels, down from 2.27 billion in 2012.
Belleville wheat trials
Results of the 2013 Belleville Wheat Variety Trials were released at the Belleville Field Day July 11. The 69 varieties tested averaged 81.9 bushels per acre.
The two highest-yielding varieties were BioTown Seeds Diener 492W and AgriMAXX 415, both yielding 93.2 bushels. Rounding out the top five varieties were UniSouth Genetics, Inc. 3251 (92.7); Hoffman Seed House H7W14 (92.4); and Sunstar Hybrids S-1200 (91.4). Two Beck’s Hybrids varieties, Beck 120 and Beck 135, also tested over 90 bushels.
Nafziger reported early wheat planting on failed corn ground did not appear to be a yield factor.
Tests at southern Illinois research farms continued to show positive yield responses from seed treatment with insecticide, he said.
Belleville plots treated with foliar insecticides, to combat aphids carrying barley yellow dwarf virus, showed higher yields this season. Combining Gaucho seed treatment with foliar insecticide appeared to maximize wheat yields, on plots treated with both Gaucho and foliar insecticide at Belleville this year.