KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, US — As the winter wheat harvest neared its completion last week, industry eyes turned to the nascent spring wheat harvest, which was expected to kick off in earnest in mid- to late August.

The Kansas wheat harvest was completed by Aug. 2, the US Department of Agriculture said in its Aug. 3 Crop Progress report. Texas and Oklahoma completed their harvests in the preceding weeks. Hard red winter wheat states with fields left to harvest were Colorado at 99% completed (95% as the 2015-19 average for the date), Nebraska at 96% (90%), South Dakota at 87% (76%) and Montana at 20% (52%).

Trains of South Dakota new crop hard winter wheat have been a mainstay on the spot market during the past two weeks, often trading across the Chicago gateway. Traders said the supplies featured higher proteins and good quality characteristics, such as falling number.

The soft winter wheat harvest, too, was, for all intents and purposes, completed with farmers in northern Michigan the last to cut wheat and shift it to bins. Millers were pleased with the quality of the soft winter wheat crop in Michigan, Ohio, New York and Ontario.

“It’s probably the best quality crop year since 2016,” said a Michigan miller, noting good berry sizes and test weights overall. Yields were down slightly in some areas, including parts of southern Ohio, a result of some mature fields being nipped by frost this spring or hot, dry weather in early summer prior to harvest.

“Quality is reflected in test weight,” one miller said. “Usually, a better test weight reflects in a better flour yield, that’s the bottom line” versus shriveled, small kernels that decrease milling efficiency.

The Michigan harvest kicked off July 6 in Saginaw Valley region and wrapped up in northern parts of the state by July 29. To some crop watchers’ surprise, a few rain events during harvest didn’t diminish quality or lower falling numbers.

The Michigan harvest produced “good receipts despite a little lower acreage, a little lower yield, but quality held up” thanks to mostly dry harvest weather, another miller said.

The soft winter wheat harvest by Aug. 2 was completed in Ohio, Indiana and Missouri. Illinois was 99% harvested (100% as the average), and Michigan was at 91% completed (86%), the USDA said last week.

Meanwhile, the 2020 spring wheat harvest already was active with growers in Washington and South Dakota making the furthest inroads. Trains with new crop South Dakota spring wheat already have traded, in some cases at prices close to those of hard red winter wheat.

Spring wheat was 5% harvested by Aug. 2 in the six principal production states, ahead of 2% a year earlier during a weather-delayed 2019 harvest, but behind 10% as the 2015-19 average for the date, the USDA said. Harvest completion by Aug. 2 was 2% in North Dakota (5% as the five-year average for the date), 35% in South Dakota (37%), 7% in Minnesota (8%), 1% in Montana (7%), 9% in Washington (21%) and 7% in Idaho (9%).

Combining was expected to ramp up in the third and fourth weeks of August and progress through the northern Plains region in a staggered fashion due to the variability in terms of field maturity.

“Even on a single farm, there might be fields that are ready for harvest and then fields that won’t be ready for another three to four weeks, just because of the type of planting season we had,” said Erica Olson, market development and research manager with North Dakota Wheat.  

“I think we’re going to see consistent, continuous harvest over the next month, but for some producers, it might not be all done in a week or two,” Olson said. “It could end up being spread out.”

Spring wheat producers were mostly positive, but realistic, about the crop’s prospects.

“Most growers I’ve visited with are not expecting any bin-buster-type yields,” she said. “They anticipate average yields. But if we take (North Dakota) as a whole, the crop looks really healthy. There are definitely areas that struggled, but overall, we’re looking at a fairly decent crop if the weather continues to cooperate.”

The timeline for harvest, which historically has ranged from a month to six weeks, is heavily reliant on weather patterns. Rain delays may keep heavy equipment out of fields for part of one day or leave machinery idle for a few days. Heavy precipitation can muddy fields beyond the point producers are comfortable entering them with combines and trucks. Thoroughly drenched wheat may need time to dry down to prevent issues with collection. These issues were the principal reason the 2019 spring wheat crop collection was tardy. Late harvested wheat was in some cases lower in quality, and some wheat was left in fields through the winter.

Soil moisture profiles and disease pressure concerns have popped up in the northern Plains during crop development, Olson said.

“There have definitely been challenges across the state,” she said. “We started out the season way too dry in some areas, way too wet in other areas. In some areas that did affect yield potential, crop stands. Once we started to get moisture, that helped stabilize the crop.”

In some earlier planted areas, precipitation came a little too late. But mostly rains were very beneficial to the developing crop.

“Along with the moisture came some disease pressure,” Olson said. “For the past three weeks or so, that has definitely been on producers’ radar. Obviously, for fusarium, fungicide is needed. We’ve definitely heard of more areas of increased disease pressure this year.”

Durum producers in the northern Plains of North Dakota and Montana anticipated entering some of the earliest-planted fields for harvest by the second week of August.

North Dakota durum was about 70% turning color and 12% ripe by Aug. 2.  In Montana, about half of the durum had started to turn color. Durum crop condition ratings improved slightly in the last week of July, reaching 72% good to excellent in North Dakota and 64% good to excellent in Montana, the USDA said.