by Tim Linscott
Perkins County native Dan Hughes has seen a few wheat harvests in his day.
As a producer and former chairman of the national U.S. Wheat Associates, Hughes knows good, quality wheat when he sees it...and he sees it everywhere in Perkins County.
“We have never had this kind of quality and quantity before. I hope this isn’t once in a lifetime, but to this point in my life, it is incredible,” Hughes said about the current wheat harvest.
University of Nebraska Agronomy Professor Bob Klein said timely rains, especially one during the seeding period, helped push this year’s wheat harvest into extraordinary range.
“The key was the rain and when it fell. Nice, gentle rains just at the right time,” Klein said, noting that temperatures were also perfect. “Temperatures over 85 degrees hurt the winter yields and everything came together this year, good, gentle rains and cooler temperatures.”
The abundance of wheat in the county is a bit of an isolated experience. Hughes notes that other parts of the region have not fared as well in regard to the harvest thus far.
“I have some friends in the Cambridge area and some of their wheat is so bad they aren’t even cutting it,” Hughes said. “They didn’t have rain, this is just an isolated area because of our rain.”
He said west and north of Perkins County should see a hearty harvest, however, south and east regions won’t do so well.
“It deteriorates rather quickly,” Hughes said.
“In the Grant area, they had a really good year,” Klein said. “Some areas in the region didn’t have as much rain and some had too much rain, so it affected their yields.”
This harvest, however, will not have an overall impact on the U.S. wheat situation.
“The amount of wheat we raise in Nebraska is pretty insignificant in not only world production but U.S. production,” Hughes said, adding that Nebraska is ranked 10th to 12th in the U.S. for wheat production.
For Perkins County producers this is an opportunity to reap the benefits of the bumper crop.
“This is a big payday. Although the price of wheat has dropped significantly in the last two months, an extra 20 bushels to sell, even at a lower price is still, bottom line, better,” Hughes said.
Klein has never seen a harvest quite this large for wheat.
“You’d have to go back quite a few years to see yields like this,” Klein said. “I have never seen it this good.”
Coming into this harvest, Hughes was hesitant on thinking the wheat crop would be this extraordinary.
“In April we had spots in our fields that were burning, turning blue and starting to fire the leaves,” Hughes said, explaining cool temperatures and plenty of moisture in June provided the wheat plants exactly what they needed. “The cooler, damper weather allows the kernels to mature slower and plenty of moisture let the plant put extra kernels on.”
A standard test weight of 60-pounds on an average year, saw over seven percent increase in test-weights this year.
The majority of the county is filled with red wheat but Hughes has observed more white wheat being planted as there is a premium offered right now.
There is not enough white wheat being raised at the moment to meet demand. Nigeria, for example, was established as a white wheat market, however, farmers in that country have not been able to meet demand.
“We (America) have built a market in Nigeria and we’re losing it to the Australians because all they do is grow white wheat. That is very frustrating,” Hughes said of global white wheat.
There is better sub-soil to plant into this fall, according to Hughes, but like every year, producers are at the mercy of the weather.
“As a farmer, I am at the mercy of Mother Nature. Kind this year, cruel prior years. All you can do is put the tools in the field and it is up to Mother Nature on what you get,” Hughes said.