It's well-known that the dominant wheat in Kansas is hard red winter wheat, the primary ingredient in most of the nation's bread, which also accounts for 40% of U.S. wheat exports, according to kswheat.com. However, what is often overlooked is soft red winter wheat, which is found in the eastern-most part of the state, especially the southeast corner. I recently discovered about half of the 72,000 wheat acres in Cherokee County – the southeastern-most county in Kansas – are soft red winter wheat. This is the preferred wheat for cakes, pastries and confections.
Columbus Farmer's Coop President Machelle Shouse says the cutoff line is most apparent at Columbus and Highway 7. West of there, it's mostly hard red. "Anything west of Columbus over to the county line, you don't see much soft wheat," Shouse says. "It just doesn't do well. It could be the soil type to the west of Columbus." The eastern part shares some soil characteristics with Missouri and more eastern states. "We're right on the edge of the Ozarks."
Soil types change dramatically from one part of Kansas to another. The same is true for Cherokee County, where soils range from loamy to sandy. "The further west you go, the sandier it gets," says Chad Mustain, Crop Production Manager at the Farmer's Coop. "The soils to the west dry out a little quicker." Further east, there are more loam soils. "I think further east the soil is a little deeper," he says. "Soft wheat is probably a little more suited for a wet environment."
While soft wheat is harder to find in other parts of Kansas, Mustain says the area has a strong demand for soft wheat. "There are a lot of chicken farms and turkey farms in the area," he says. "They use a lot of soft wheat in their feed production."
Most of the time, it yields 15 to 20 bushels an acre more than hard red, which ranges from 40 to 70 bushels an acre in the region. However, soft white usually brings a lower price, about 60 to 70 cents less per bushel. This year, yields are about the same, but with the same price difference. "Two years ago, and it depends on the market and the buyer, soft wheat was higher than hard wheat by about $1," Shouse says. "That was very, very uncommon."