No. 16 Article 6/July 13, 2007

A Strange Wheat Year Ends

The 2006-2007 growing season for wheat in Illinois is near its end, with the last of the crop now being harvested in the northern end of the state. The projected yield in the June crop report was 55 bushels per acre. That's well below last year's record 68 bushels per acre. We also harvested only 810,000 acres of 970,000 acres planted, so lost 160,000 acres, compared to an average loss of about 30,000 acres.

Except for the freeze in the second week of April, the spring weather was nearly ideal for wheat, with dry weather in most areas and warm temperature that hastened development. Without the freeze, we would very likely have had a new record yield. As it was, including lost yield and lost acres, the freeze dropped production by some 20 million bushels in Illinois in 2007. With the price above $5 per bushel, lost income totaled some $100 million.

Despite these large losses, the recovery of the crop from the freeze injury was remarkable. For example, I saw the variety trial at Belleville at the end of April and was prepared to write it off, keeping it only because we might be able to take some notes on a disaster. Some of the varieties had virtually no heads formed at that time, and it appeared that none would form in some cases, because the main tiller head was dead. We underestimated the ability of the crop to produce heads on secondary tillers. Even though these formed a week or more after primary tillers would have produced heads, the lowest yield in the trial was 51, the highest yield was 81, and the average was 66 bushels per acre.

All of the wheat variety trials have been harvested, and results are available here. The Dixon Springs trial was lost, as much to poor stands after a cool, wet fall as to the freeze. Trial average yields ranged from a low of 65 at Urbana, where the freeze did more damage than we had expected, to 78 at Brownstown. Winter injury (from before the freeze) was evident on a few varieties at Urbana and DeKalb.

The price of wheat remains strong; and if doublecrop soybeans yield well, the interest in planting wheat this fall should be high. This always depends, of course, on prices and yields of corn and soybeans, as well as fall planting conditions. We dodged a bullet with the crop this year due to remarkably good conditions that encouraged recovery and growth after an unprecedented freeze. That does not necessarily mean that the crop will suffer less than expected from such events in the future, but it will help us be better prepared to respond to the next challenge.--Emerson Nafziger

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