'Variable' is best word for 2014 wheat crop

Posted: Jul. 18, 2014 9:27 am Updated: Aug. 1, 2014 11:15 am

Herald-Whig Staff Writer

Frank Wallace really thought about destroying nearly a third of his wheat crop this year.

Turns out it's a good thing he didn't.

The crop he worried about keeping posted the best yield he'd ever seen at 87 bushels per acre.

"It just had to be the conditions were just perfect for it," said Wallace, who farms near Vandalia in Ralls County. "We had ample rain but not too much rain, some dry weather but not too much dry weather. Wheat's kind of a sensitive crop."

Across the Mississippi River, Quincy area farmer Mike Genenbacher wishes he wouldn't have kept his crop.

One field made 75 bushels per acre, but the other two were below-average at 60 and 50 bushels per acre.

"It was probably a better choice to kill off wheat this year," Genenbacher said. "The one that made 60 had vomitoxin in it, and (the elevator) will not accept it. When it's flowering, if it's hot and humid weather, the toxin sets in."

Max Glover, University of Missouri Extension agronomy specialist in Shelby County, said 'variable' is the best word to describe this year's crop.

"If you say it was a good year for wheat, some farmers would disagree," he said. "Some would disagree with it being a bad year."

Harvested wheat acreage dropped 15 percent over 2013 across Missouri, with farmers dedicating more acreage to soybeans, Glover said, and yields statewide fell 17 percent compared to last year. Illinois wheat acreage dropped 15 percent compared to 2013, and statewide, farmers have nearly finished the harvest.

"There wasn't ideal weather for wheat," Glover said. "There's been a little bit of winter kill, but along with the cold temperatures, we had a fair amount of snow cover. A little bit of snow does a really good job of protecting it from cold temperatures."

Weather was a key concern for this year's wheat crop -- and the worry started right at planting time.

"We turned off cold last fall, and wheat never had a chance to come out of the ground," Genenbacher said. "You want wheat to be about one-inch tall before you hit freezing temperatures, but it was barely coming out of the ground, at least the later-planted wheat."

Colder-than-normal winter weather took a toll on the crop, which already had thin stands in many fields.

"Winter injury was one of the major concerns for the crop, but it turned out, in most cases, to make it through the winter pretty well," Glover said.

Then spring's hot, humid conditions contributed to disease issues in some fields.

"All in all, it's just a typical day of farming," Genenbacher said.

Farmers like Genenbacher and Wallace always plant wheat as part of their crop rotation. Others decided to plant, or not plant, based on prices for wheat, corn and soybeans.

Wheat price was all right this year, Wallace said, but it would have been better to have sold the crop earlier.

"You run a risk selling too much ahead of time," he said. "I did have some sold ahead of time, but not near enough."

With his wheat crop already harvested, Wallace hopes to get a corn and soybean crop, which so far, look excellent.

"This will be the first crop I've raised in two years. I'm due," he said.

Dry weather took the crop in 2012. A small pocket of dry conditions hampered the crop again in 2013, but "it was worse," Wallace said. "In 2012, crop insurance made up the difference. Last year, the yield wasn't bad enough to trigger crop insurance, and the price wasn't high enough to offset the lost bushels."

Genenbacher hopes for a better return from the double-crop soybeans planted after his wheat harvest, but he takes all the challenges of farming in stride.

"My uncle told me years ago you've got to be a Cub fan to be a farmer," he said. "There's always next year."