As field work was delayed in getting crops planted this spring, so too has been the story for harvesting wheat in the Midwest. It took a couple weeks of hot, dry weather to really get the crop ready.

“Harvest is progressing rapidly now with the hot dry weather,” said Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board. “As we reached harvest — about 10-14 days behind normal — the crop was slow to mature and cutting conditions were difficult early. In the last two weeks, weather has sped the harvest progress and dried fields quickly.”

Schaneman is projecting a 50 million bushel crop on 1 million acres harvested.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, based on July 1 conditions, forecast Nebraska’s winter wheat production at 51.4 million bushels, up 4 percent from last year’s 49.49 million bushels. Average yield is forecast at 53 bushels per acre, up 4 bushels from 2018. Area to be harvested for grain is estimated at 970,000 acres, down 4 percent from 1.01 million acres a year ago.

Nationally, hard red winter wheat production, at 804 million bushels. Total U.S. winter wheat production is forecast at 1.29 billion bushels, up 9 percent from 2018. Yield is forecast at 51.8 bushels per acre, up 3.9 bushels from last year.

The NASS report for the week ending July 14, winter wheat harvested was 14 percent, well behind 57 last year and 52 average.

Schaneman said early harvest reports from producers have been reporting higher than average yields (60-85 bu/ac), test weights from 59 to 62 and protein levels ranging from 10.5 to 12.5.

“As harvest moves to the larger growing regions in the western part of the state I would expect these numbers to change as these areas typically receive lower precipitation and are planted on lighter sandy soils,” Schaneman said. “We are hopeful that these areas have a strong harvest with higher than usual moisture.”

The biggest factors now, he added, are hail storms and any stem sawfly damage that would weaken the stalks and cause wheat to lay-over prior to harvest.

“Elevators are handling the crop well,” Schaneman said. “With the slower than usual grain marketing’s both domestic and export, the delayed harvest probably helped elevators make room for the incoming wheat.

“The impacts of a late harvest are most likely going to be a faster than normal turn around for planting in areas of wheat/fallow. Plantings in areas where producers are waiting for harvest of spring-seeded crops may be delayed again this year as all crops are behind normal growth and development stages.

“If we can have a fall with a late date for a killing freeze, that would benefit most farmers.”

Schaneman expected a slight increase in wheat acres after years of a slow, steady decline. However, the wet conditions at planting time delayed the harvest of other crops and pushed wheat planting later or not at all.

“I was pleased to see wheat acres steady compared to last year. Fall growing conditions were good for the wheat that was planted,” he said. “Weather events throughout the growing season tested the resiliency of our wheat crop. Late snow and late frost events had us concerned about the crop condition this spring.

“An extended cool, wet spring had us hopeful of adequate moisture for the crop, delayed development and also kept producers concerned about disease pressures. Those concerns kept most farmers actively scouting fields and providing treatments as needed. For the most part, disease pressure was lower than expected until very late in the season.”

Wheat harvest is wrapping up in central Kansas and in full swing in northwest Kansas.

The NASS report as of July 14 showed winter wheat maturity at 98 percent. Harvested wheat was at 81 percent, behind 98 last year and 95 for the five-year average. Colorado wheat was 66 percent mature and 22 percent harvested.

Most northwest Kansas farmers expected to be done by early in the week starting July 21.

Roger Snodgrass, of McDougal-Sager & Snodgrass Grain Inc., in Rawlins County in northwest Kansas, reported that they were about 80 percent done with this year’s harvest as of July 18. Snodgrass said they missed out on most of the big rains this year and did not get too much hail. While they are seeing lower protein levels, they are also seeing above average yields and good test weights.

“Most of the guys are smiling around here and are happy with the crop that we are seeing,” Snodgrass said.

Larry Glenn, of Frontier AG Inc. in Quinter in northwest Kansas, said harvest was 85-90 percent complete in the area as of July 17. Glenn reported that yields are above average in the western third of the state. Harvest was delayed and started out slow, but then moved very quickly.

Glenn said they started paying protein premiums last year and added protein testers in all locations. Protein is averaging about 10.5 percent.

Storage is an issue in the area, with the bunker in Quinter full. They are getting some rail cars in to start moving grain as the elevator space gets tight.

“We’ve been blessed with rains in this area,” Glenn said, adding that the rains didn’t come too much at a time like other areas. While there was some hail, it was spotty and didn’t cause widespread damage.

“We are well above last year on bushels, which was a good year,” Glenn said.

Terry Anderson can be reached at terry.anderson@lee.net.