Weather, disease affect winter wheat harvest, yields across Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas |

Weather, disease affect winter wheat harvest, yields across Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas

Bridgett Weaver

Freeze, disease and rain caused a lot of problems in wheat fields in Colorado, Nebraska and Kansas this year, but yields are expected to even out to at least average.

Many producers in the southern parts of Colorado have finished harvesting already and reported great yields, while northern Colorado producers are just getting into their fields and are reporting damage from the Mother's Day frost, wheat rust and heavy rains in May and June.

"It's all over the map," said Keith DeVoe, CEO of Roggen Farmers Elevator Association. "We've got fields around 75 (bushels) and fields around 15."

The Roggen elevator buys wheat from local producers to make flour and other grain products.

Kansas saw many of the same problems as Colorado, including a rain-soaked May which caused stripe rust, but the yields across Kansas turned out better than expected.

Aaron Harries, vice president of research and operations for Kansas Wheat, said they had some rain delays throughout the harvest, but some hot, dry days helped them to knock it out quickly once they started.

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"It was a give and take," Harries said. "We took the rain. We needed the rain but then you're going to have some disease pressure with that."

Harries said the most recent USDA report had Kansas harvest at 334 million bushels for the year. Yields were an average of 38 bushels per acre.

"We ended up with a much larger yield than we had anticipated," he said. "I think everyone's pretty pleasantly surprised with their yields."

And the quality was pretty normal as well. Harries said the test weights were just below average and protein levels came in right at average. Although the yield was unexpectedly good, the price of wheat in Kansas is sitting pretty low around $5.25 per bushel.

Kansas will be done with the entire winter wheat harvest soon. Harries said they only have a few fields left in northeast and northwestern Kansas.

"We usually wrap things up in the northwest part of the state," he said.

Nebraska also started the harvest the second week of July, which is a late start.

Every area of the state except the western panhandle has started harvesting. The panhandle is expected to start this week.

A Nebraska Wheat Crop Report shows that test weights and yields are across the board.

Ag Promotion Coordinator Caroline Brauer said the producers in Nebraska ran into similar problems as those in Kansas and Colorado.

"It's pretty variable this year," she said. "We have a lot of different things that affected the yield."

Rain, hail and rust were at the top of Nebraska farmers' list of things to be weary of.

Brauer said yields are anywhere from 30 to 60 bushels per acre on dryland and 70-80 bushels average on irrigated land. Test weights in some parts of the state are also suffering.

"The quality will take a little bit of a hit when you see test weights that low," she said. With weights in the 40s, some of the wheat will probably be used for animal feed and not in the food grade market.

Brauer said the state should average out to match the five-year average.

"It's kind of what we were anticipating. For all of the challenges that farmers face in this growing season, average is good," she said. "Farmers are seeming pretty happy with the crop that's coming in from western Nebraska."

According to the USDA website, wheat prices in Nebraska are falling between $4.88 and $5.24.

Brauer said they're hoping to finish harvest up by the end of July but it's very weather dependent.

Jerry Cooksey, of Cooksey Farms in Roggen in southeastern Weld County, Colo., said he also is seeing a mixed bag in the harvest.

"There's a lot of variability this year," he said. "Some of it has to do with luck and some of it has to so with how the crop was managed."

Cooksey finally started the harvest last weekend, but he has found rain to be the ultimate challenger so far.

"Harvest action is picking up this week," Cooksey said. "We started in on Saturday afternoon but had a little bit of a shower then and got rained out."

They started the harvest with an earlier variety, which was affected heavily by the Mother's Day freeze this year, he said.

Cooksey said he's seeing anywhere from 30 percent to 60 percent damage between the frost and rust.

Those fields that were more mature during the late freeze were seeing yields in the low-to-mid 30s of bushels per acre, Cooksey said — below average.

But the fields harvested on Tuesday painted a more positive picture, as they harvested a variety that was planted later.

"Today we moved into another variety," he said. "The machines were showing about 52 bushels per acre. We're feeling a little better today."

It's still a little too soon to tell the full outcome, but Cooksey said he expects a pretty good yield overall.

"This field is above average, and the field yesterday was below average," he said. "I think some other fields and varieties are going to do well."

This year was all about timing — both in planting and weather — and luck, he said.

The timing of spraying for wheat rust either saved the crop or made a large difference in the harvest, and the maturity of the wheat when the frost hit in May also affected what came out of the fields in July.

"Luck and timing, I would say," Cooksey said. "There's not many years that we have a frost on the 10th of May. That's just bad luck there."

Cooksey said the harvest is expected to bring about $500 million into Colorado's economy this year, with 2.25 million acres to harvest. Weld County producers planted about 130,000 acres.

DeVoe said because of the damage, a lot of bushels are weighing in around 58 pounds — slightly lower than the ideal weight of 60 pounds.

The price per bushel is down about $1 year-over-year, DeVoe said. This year it's ringing in at about $5.18 per bushel compared to last year's $6.21.

Joe Westhoff, feed and trait specialist with Colorado Wheat, said he's seen the same as everyone else so far — mixed yields. Some areas are seeing fantastic yields while others suffer.

"I think overall it will be an above-average crop," he said, "but there will be some pretty disappointed folks out there."

Cooksey's neighbor, Joe Klausner of Klausner Bros. in Roggen, said he's seeing average yields in his fields so far.

He said they've only finished about three fields, but things are looking pretty decent.

"I would say they're in the average bushels, like 40," Klausner said. "That's bearable. Some (fields) had as high as 65. The lowest I've seen is 42."

But Klausner said the rain is slowing down the harvest.

"It's slow going out there," he said. "These guys just really got started here in the last week. We've got about another 10 days if we don't get many rain delays."

National Stats for Wheat

2015 2014

Acres harvested: 48.5M 46.4M

Acres planted: 56.1M 56.8M

Production (by bushel): 2,147M 2,025M

Yield (bushels/acre): 44.3 43.7

Source: USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service