Wheat Crop "Season Finale"

June 23, 2000
I haven't talked much about the wheat crop this spring, but it's been a rather unusual year for it, much as it has been for corn. Wheat headed about a week to 10 days early in most areas, and with the warm temperatures in the past month, it has also filled grain and ripened earlier than usual. The grainfilling period has been a relatively good one (more rainfall than ideal, but reasonable temperatures and adequate sunshine), which has resulted in well-filled grains. Conditions were not as good as in 1999, but yields should be a bit above the 5-year average.

Nearly all of the wheat in the southern half of the state has reached physiological maturity, and the main problem now is wet soils that both keep the grain above ideal harvest moistures and also keep combines out of the field. Traveling as far south as Rend Lake on Monday of this week (June 19), we saw only one field that had been combined and one combine in another field; all other fields were ripe and starting to take on the discoloration (turning brown or black) that is common when a ripe crop stays in the field due to wet weather. Soil moisture is excessive in much of the area south of I-70, and so doublecropping may be difficult even if combines can get through. Combine ruts, such as we saw throughout that area in 1998, might make soybean planting difficult. In 1998 much of the doublecrop was planted in July. Although it is considerably earlier this year than when the problem occurred in 1998, we clearly need some dry weather in order to get the wheat out and the soybeans planted.

As all wheat producers know from painful experience, harvest delays due to wet weather usually decrease the quality of wheat. Wetting and redrying typically lower the test weight, sometimes enough to cause a discount at sale. Cleaning the grain and moving some air through it, as well as transferring it through an auger, might help improve the test weight some, but starch grains in the kernel usually pack less densely after they've been wetted and dried down, so it may not be possible to avoid all discounts. To prevent another wetting cycle, some may want to harvest at moisture contents of 18 or even 20 percent and dry the grain in the bin or in a dryer. At or above 18 percent moisture, wheat grain may be quite soft, and combines need to be adjusted carefully to prevent grain damage and to keep from blowing the puffed-up kernels over the screen. Remember also that wheat grain can lose moisture very fast (up to five or six points per day), and so the time gained by harvesting at high moisture may be minimal.--Emerson Nafziger

Author: Emerson Nafziger