By DEBORAH GERTZ HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
BASCO, Ill.— Jason Jacquot checked out a wheat field and liked what he saw.
"The wheat looks really good," the Basco farmer said. "It looks like a really good stand."
Jacquot and his dad, Ed, planted about 100 acres of wheat, hoping for another good year from the crop that was a surprising bright spot for 2012.
"Most of the time with wheat you either get docked on test weight or moisture. It never works out," Jacquot said. "This year test weight was really good, moisture was dry and yields were phenomenal."
Hancock County wheat fields yielded 90 bushels per acre in a year when the price was high.
"For sure, wheat was a good crop," Jacquot said. "If you drill in the dust, the bins will bust, and it was definitely a dry year. It was dry last fall, too."
In a year that challenged corn and soybean growers, wheat provided the biggest success story in agriculture.
"Because wheat is harvested in June or July, depending what area of the state you're in, we had most of the crop out of the ground before the full effects of the drought," said Diane Handley, executive secretary of the Illinois Wheat Association. "Wheat actually benefits from a little bit warmer, drier weather."
Warm, dry weather curtails the threat of disease.
"Then the crop is more profitable, with better yields," Handley said. "It doesn't like to sit in water. It doesn't need the rain that corn and soybean does."
Nineteen Illinois counties, including Hancock, posted wheat yields averaging at least 70 bushels per acre. Carroll County posted the top yield, 95.7 bushels per acre, compared to the state average of 63 bushels per acre, with Washington County leading in production with 4.1 million bushels.
Planted in the fall usually after soybeans and dormant through the winter months, wheat provides a good alternative for some farming operations.
The Jacquots raise corn, soybeans, hogs, cattle and hay along with wheat.
"Wheat's kind of a nice crop," Jacquot said. "It brings in a little extra money that time of year when I've got some rents due."
The crop also handles some rough weather conditions.
"It got frosted and didn't look too good on the top," Jacquot said last month. "It's always got nine lives. It always comes back. It's a pretty hardy crop."
Eighty percent of the state's wheat production comes in the southern third of Illinois.
"We've always had a fair amount of wheat just because it's a great double crop for southern Illinois," Handley said. "In southern Illinois, it's probably not going to go away, but it's going to vary in how many acres are planted from year to year."
Illinois farmers planted 660,000 acres of wheat for 2012 and 830,000 acres for 2013, an increase Handley expected.
"Wheat did so well last year that we were going to increase the acres planted," she said, and the crop's popularity will only increase "if we have another good year."