Southern Illinois University Wheat tour

Participants in a wheat tour examine plants in research plots at Southern Illinois University’s Belleville Research Center.

For many growers, the wheat crop in Illinois was a pleasant surprise.

Despite weather concerns, yields were good and quality problems were not widespread.

“I don’t have any complaints about it,” said Leon Adams, who grows wheat in Jefferson County. “It wasn’t the bin buster we had a few years ago. That’s what those of us who still grow wheat are trying to manage again — triple-digit yields.”

Still, many fields averaged yields of more than 80 bushels per acre. He finished harvest right around the beginning of July, two to three weeks later than average.

“There were a lot of holes,” he said. “Quality was OK in the beginning. We had to manually dry probably two-thirds of all our bushels. In June it rained a lot, and the wheat never would get dry.”

Phil Seaman, who manages the CHS grain elevator in Shipman, Illinois, noted that harvest was two to three weeks late, with some growers not finishing until a week into July.

“Overall, the quality was better than we thought it would be,” Seaman said. “We had no concerns with test weights. There were no real light ones. Yields ran 70 to 80 bushels for the majority of farmers.

“We were pleased with the quality. It might be just a tad light, but not anything like last year. Overall, the test weights were pretty good. A lot of our guys put fungicide on it, which seems to help the quality.”

He did say there were some isolated cases in which wheat was rejected by millers due to low falling numbers, a quality indicator that affects cooking traits.

Carl Schwinke, vice president of grain supply at Siemer Milling in Teutopolis, said no loads were rejected there.

“There were some loads that had sprouting and low falling numbers. They go hand in hand,” Schwinke said. “It’s caused by sprouting in the wheat. We had a lot of hot, wet weather during grain fill. Three to four weeks ago it rained every other day and was 85 degrees. That causes it to sprout in the field. Some of the same issues that plagued the corn and bean farmers plagued the wheat farmer. We saw a little bit of vomitoxin. It’s not a perfect crop.”

In most years, Adams may manually dry 10 to 15%. This year, he had to dry about half.

“This time, the wheat was already two weeks behind in maturity,” he said. “Couple that with it being so wet, it was tough to get it dry. In a race against the calendar, nature always wins.”

Millers like to see test weights around 60 pounds per bushel, and elevators often dock wheat that comes in below 56 lbs. But Adams had good test weights.

“We had some good loads of wheat in the low 60s,” he said. “Some of the field-dried wheat took a rain June 21. That hurt it at least 2 lbs. Some guys had some 55-lb. test weights out there.”

An annual tour of wheat in southern Illinois in late May resulted in an estimate of slightly less than 65 bushels per acre. Schwinke believes that is probably low.

“I do think they’ll be higher,” he said.

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