Kansas farmer wants to grow wheat if it's profitable

by World Grain Staff
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Corn produces larger yields, causing most farmers to grow it instead of wheat.

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — Wheat growers prefer to grow wheat rather than other crops, but it has to be profitable, a Kansas wheat grower said recently at the Wheat Quality Council’s annual meeting.

“If there is profitability in wheat, we will figure out how to plant it,” said David Schemm, National Association of Wheat Growers’ treasurer and a third-generation wheat grower from Sharon Springs, Kansas, U.S., speaking from a grower perspective at the Wheat Quality Council meeting on Feb. 17. “We want to grow wheat if all else is equal,” he said in reference to declining wheat acreage in favor of other more profitable crops.

All wheat planted area was forecast by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) at 51 million acres in 2016, down 42% from a peak of 88.3 million acres in 1981 and the lowest since 48.7 million acres in 1970. During the same period, corn planted area increased 7% from 84.1 million acres in 1981 to 90 million acres forecast in 2016 (record high was 97.3 million in 2012), and soybeans have increased 22% from 67.5 million acres in 1981 to a forecast 82.5 million in 2016 (record high was 83.3 million in 2014).

Schemm noted recent wheat prices and input costs in his area showed a loss of about $43 per acre for wheat but a $15 per acre profit for corn.

“Corn is beating us up because it yields more,” he said. USDA data show the national average wheat yield at 43.6 bushels an acre in 2015, up 1% from 1998 and up 26% from 1981, compared with the average corn yield at 168.4 bushels an acre in 2015, up 25% from 1998 and up 55% from 1981.

He cited potential in identity preserved wheat that allows supply to be tracked from the farm to the end user, resulting in closer ties between producers and end users. Although he noted that identity preserved crops aligned better with small- and medium-size growers who can more intensely manage their acres.

Wheat producers need “economic sustainability,” Schemm said. “What we are doing is not working.”

While bioengineered seed has been critical to boost yields and reduce costs for such crops as corn, soybeans and sugar beets, “genetically modified wheat is not the silver bullet,” Schemm said, “It’s a tool.” Although bioengineered wheat has been developed, he noted export hurdles and other concerns continue to limit the commercial viability of bioengineered wheat at the current time.

Schemm said he didn’t see wheat acres trending higher in the near future, and for those producers focused on wheat as the only crop they grow, acreage likely would trend lower.

“I have a choice in what I can grow,” Schemm said. “I will grow crops that will make money.”

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