Winter wheat harvest off to strong start thanks to heat
After an extremely wet spring and early summer, this week's torrid temperatures were just what the doctor ordered for the beginning of the 2011 winter wheat harvest.
The Department of Agriculture estimates the state's winter wheat crop will be about 76 million bushels, or 19 percent larger than last year's crop.
Heat and wheat harvest are synonymous.
"The heat sped harvest up a little, but made it unbearable for field workers," said Jim Morken, general manager of the Farmers Alliance elevator, in Mitchell.
The wheat had already ripened by the time this week's heat wave hit, Morken said, so it wasn't damaged by the high temps but it sped up the process without damaging other crops.
"The corn has really weathered it pretty well," he said.
On the plus side, Morken said wheat quality and yields are quite good, "and protein levels are running better than we expected."
Thursday prices closed down 18 cents to end at $7.12 a bushel in Mitchell. The reason for the drop wasn't immediately apparent.
Winter wheat yields have been in the 40- to 60-bushel range, he said.
The excessive heat also insured that wheat came to the elevators dry -- in some cases drier that it needed to be, said Neal Cheeseman, location manager for the Farmers Alliance elevator in Chamberlain.
Cheeseman said some wheat made it to his elevator with 10 percent moisture. Wheat with a moisture content of 13 percent or less is acceptable at elevators.
Anything less reduces weight and corresponding profits.
Early worries that wet weather would reduce the protein values of harvested wheat hasn't proved out, said Jon Proehl, grain merchandiser for the Dakota Plains Ag Center south of Parkston.
Protein values of 12 to 14 percent are desirable; this year's winter wheat has averaged 12 percent he said.
Proehl said the wet spring had dropped some Nebraska wheat to 11 percent protein, a factor that lessens marketability.
"Wheat likes dry feet," Proehl said and this week's hot weather has helped in that regard.
"Our wheat has been grading at 1 or 2 (the better part of a five-point scale) and averaging 60 pounds a bushel," Proehl said.
That means that wheat has been clean, with no diseases or toxic molds. Some unharvested wheat in wetter fields will profit from higher heat levels and drier weather, he said, and prices, while down slightly from May contract highs of $8 to $8.50 a bushel, are still respectable and holding well, he said.
Winter wheat was in the $5 to $6 range during last fall's planting season, leading some farmers to commit more acreage to corn.
For those who planted winter wheat, the decision will likely pay off with prices approximating expected those for corn, which is selling for more than $7 per bushel now.
If dry weather holds, the winter wheat harvest could last about two and a half more weeks.