Winter Wheat Crop On The Edge

Buckeye Farm Beat

Ohio’s soft red winter wheat crop is ready for harvest, but incessant rains frustrate both farmers and buyers. Now quality concerns arise.

Published on: July 10, 2013

A month ago everything was going well for Ohio’s soft red winter wheat crop. Winter provided few problems and the cool wet spring helped fill out the heads. Reports of early harvest in southern Ohio in late June indicated a big crop with a decent test weight and good yields.

Then it was like the pumps on a fountain were turned on and the rain systems began pulling water out of the gulf and piping it straight north to the Eastern Corn Belt where it has been spraying from the tip of the fountain onto the fields of farmers in Ohio and neighboring states via pop-up storms for the last 3 weeks. It has stalled out the wheat harvest south of Interstate 70 and prevented it north of the highway. Farmers and buyers are beginning both to worry about the quality of the wheat standing in the fields.

BETTER DAYS: In a normal year the wheat heads in Ohio fields would be dry and ready for harvest like this one.
BETTER DAYS: In a normal year the wheat heads in Ohio fields would be dry and ready for harvest like this one.

Dave Remley is listed as general manager of Keynes Bros., Inc., a wheat miller in Logan. Keynes depends on soft red winter wheat for milling to provide wheat for the baking industry. Remley is very concerned about the potential for sprouting in the state’s wheat crop.

“All across the soft red wheat region it’s the same,” he says. “The Carolinas are as bad or worse than we are. They were supposed to be finished harvesting in in early June and much of crop is still standing. Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana. It’s the same all over.”

Already Remley is hearing reports of sprouting in the heads of the wheat. Sprouting initiates the creation of enzymes that make the wheat unusable for baking. The wheat is essential for the crackers and cake industry. It is also used heavily as a soup thickener.

When the quality of the milled product is not satisfactory, the wheat immediately goes from a human-consumed food to an animal-used feed. The price difference for a farmer can mean as much as $2 a bushel less, Remley says. That of course depends on the price of competing feeds like corn. If corn prices were to fall with a bumper crop, the price of wheat feed would fall as well.

For Keynes it’s a matter of meeting demands. They might have to look to regions outside the U.S. soft red wheat belt to meet their needs. He notes that about 40% of the wheat in southern Ohio has been harvested. And virtually none of the wheat north of Interstate 70 has been cut, he says.

A dry morning with a little wind is often enough to make the wheat dry enough to harvest. The problem has been the soppy field conditions.

“Our hope is there are areas of northern Ohio or pockets in Michigan where the wheat will not start to sprout. And who knows, if we avoid rain on Friday (July 12) and they get back in the fields on Saturday (July 13). We need the fields to dry out before the equipment can get in there.”

Also lost to the drenching is the premium value of bright yellow wheat straw to the horse market. The longer the straw stands the grayer the stalks get as fungi move in. Fortunately most farmers did get a fungicide spray on the crop to prevent toxic molds from growing in the grain heads. However the wheat straw has not fared as well. Both rain and mold take a toll on the stalk quality as cutting and baling of straw is delayed.

“We’ll see on Monday how the crop is doing. Until we get this under cover and dried down, we really won’t know exactly what we have as a wheat crop this year,” Remley says.