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Illinois wheat crop may approach record yield
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Illinois wheat crop may approach record yield

tour of wheat fields in Illinois

Participants in an annual tour of wheat fields in Illinois check plots at Southern Illinois University’s Belleville Research Center. Yields are estimated at about 70 bushels per acre in the fields examined.

BELLEVILLE, Ill. — The Illinois wheat crop has excellent potential this year if estimates hold up.

Participants of an annual tour of the state’s major wheat-growing region found healthy plants, good stands and full heads. Several groups fanned across southern Illinois, observing crops in 50 fields. Judging by numbers taken from tiller counts and other observations, the group estimated an average yield of 70 bushels per acre.

The average yield for last year’s crop was 68 bushels per acre, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Growers set a record in 2017 with an average yield of 75 bushels. John Howell believes this year’s crop may be near that number.

“We had high expectations, and I think what we saw matched that,” said Howell, who led a four-person team observing crops in St. Clair, Monroe, Randolph, Perry, Washington and Clinton counties. “We saw a very consistent crop.”

Howell, who farms in Monroe County, said tiller counts were among the highest he has seen. Other areas that exhibited thinner stands could temper that expectation, however.

“It’s really difficult to predict a record yield, but we thought we had a really good crop through those five counties,” Howell said. “We were impressed by the looks of it. But it sounded like the crop in the north of us was a little thin.”

Indeed, the crop generally didn’t fare as well in a region north of U.S. Route 50 and west of Illinois Route 127. Six fields toured in Madison County — regularly among the top counties in production — indicated yields would average fewer than 45 bushels per acre.

Aaron Hunsinger, a sales representative with BASF, found a lack of consistency. While he saw some fields with 100-bushel potential, he described others as sorely lacking in stands and quality.

“On one side of a road in Washington County, we really didn’t want to stop there,” he said. “We could see dirt through the rows. One field in St. Clair County had some really good-looking wheat on one side, and the other side of the road it was very thin.”

Tour participants who walked fields due east across the state told a different story. Richland and Clay counties — on the northeastern part of the state’s Wheat Belt — had the best numbers, with yield averages of 96 and 88 bushels per acre, respectively. One field in Richland County could yield 125 bushels, according to estimates.

Howell’s team found good stands of healthy wheat in the western portion of the wheat-growing region.

“I did five fields mostly in eastern Clinton County and they were very good overall,” he said. “They were uniform, thick and consistent. Tiller counts were much higher than what we saw in years past. We sowed wheat early last fall. With early harvest, guys got in and sowed wheat with good timing. You can see those results. If it stays moderately cool, we can add some bushels.”

Early planted wheat can be susceptible to damage caused by Hessian fly flights and aphids that can transmit barley yellow dwarf virus. Because of that potential, agronomists have long recommended that wheat not be sown until after the so-called fly-free date, which is about the first week in October in much of southern Illinois. But many producers have had little problem with early planted wheat.

Howell said that for the most part, wheat in the region has enjoyed ideal growing conditions.

“We had a really nice fall,” he said. “There was nice tillering in the fall. It broke dormancy nice and didn’t get too wet. There’s been good management. Dual nitrogen and fungicide applications were done in a relatively timely fashion.”

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Nat Williams is Southern Illinois field editor, writing for Illinois Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Missouri Farmer Today.

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While cool temperatures are not necessarily “good” for pests (they need heat units to develop too), conditions that delay growth do leave the crop in a vulnerable stage for a longer period of time.

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