This year’s winter wheat harvest in Nebraska ran long. In a few cases, it finished up just weeks before the planting season for next year’s crop was due to begin. However, in spite of a challenging growing season, some of the harvest results turned out better than expected.

The challenging year began last fall during planting.

“Last fall was wet when it was time to plant the winter wheat and harvest corn and soybeans,” said Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board. “We didn’t get as much wheat planted as we would have liked, especially where farmers were having trouble getting soybeans harvested.

“There was some wheat that got into the ground early. It had a lot of moisture to work with, and looked really good when it came up,” he recalled. “There just wasn’t much of it. Later-planted wheat didn’t get off to the kind of start we hoped for.”

Schaneman said the wheat got through winter “pretty well,” for the most part. There were some cold snaps, and winter wheat under snow cover was protected. However, those fields that were more exposed took some damage.

After that, it was cool and wet for a good deal of the spring and summer seasons. But, some parts of Nebraska stayed mostly dry and saw some good harvest results.

“Yields in the northeast and east-central Nebraska area ranged from 58-96 bushels per acre,” said Nathan Mueller, University of Nebraska Extension educator. “Things were really decent in spite of a rough start.

“We were in a pocket of Nebraska that turned out abnormally dry,” he recalled. “It was a minor drought in the Burt, Thurston, Cummings, Dodge, and Washington county areas. We had a lack of rain from the third week of June to the second week of August. A lot of areas only received 1-1.5 inches total during that time.”

The lack of July rainfall didn’t hurt crop development, thanks to adequate soil moisture, he said.

“Being on the drier side likely helped us when it came to test weight,” Mueller added. “Our area’s test weights ranged from 59 pounds up to 62-pound test weights, which was really good. Proteins in northeast and east-central Nebraska ranged from 11.5 to 13 percent.”

One thing farmers and experts were worried about was disease pressure stemming from wet conditions.

“It didn’t pop up until late in the season,” Schaneman said. “By then, the crop was all but finished, so those diseases didn’t have a big effect on the wheat.”

July is typically harvest time. However, that’s when rain showers began cranking up once again in a big chunk of wheat country.

“That held guys out of the field and likely had at least some effect on test weight,” Schaneman said. “The rain on a finished wheat crop takes down some quality. In spite of all the challenges, yields were still pretty strong.

“We’re probably looking at a statewide average of 58 bushels per acre,” he said. “Typically, a good part of the state is closer to 50 per acre. As far as the quality, we typically want protein to be around 12%. We had quite a range this year, with wheat ranging from 8-14% protein. When you put those all together, the average is likely 10-10.5 this year. It’s not as good as we wanted but it sure could have been a lot worse.”

In some cases, the delayed harvest meant a short turnaround to get ready for fall planting.

“Some farmers were likely still harvesting in the third week of August and had to be ready to plant again by mid-September,” Schaneman said. “The turnaround was tight, and we’ve had some rainfall, especially in areas out west that’s slowed down planting. However, it sounds like the crop is slowly getting in out west.”

Schaneman said Nebraska likely won’t see much increase in winter wheat acreage. The primary reason is the delay in getting corn and soybeans out of the field in eastern Nebraska. That will slow winter wheat planting in a good-sized part of the state.

“Most planting is going on in the panhandle right now because of the elevation and cropping systems out there,” Mueller added. “Most of the wheat planted in the eastern half of the state has to wait until soybeans are harvested. A lot of the wheat will go in during October.”

Chad Smith can be reached at editorial@midwestmessenger.com.

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