WOOSTER, Ohio - While corn and soybean producers continue to sweat out the roller coaster weather ride of the growing season, wheat growers are smiling from ear to ear.
The onset of dry conditions during the final stage of grain development matured the crop so quickly that not only has harvest been completed sooner than expected, but also the grain produced is receiving high quality marks.
"The dry conditions that occurred during the soft dough stage really made the wheat mature quickly. The worst thing that can happen during the grain development stage is to get a lot of rain that shrinks the kernels and destroys test weights," said Pat Lipps, an Ohio State University plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "Since that didn't happen, we got nice plump kernels and just overall excellent grain quality. Some areas of the state were reporting the highest test weights I've ever heard of in Ohio." Lipps said average test weights usually run between 56 and 59 pounds per bushel. This year's test weights were ranging anywhere from 58 to 64 pounds per bushel.
"Those are just outstanding numbers," said Lipps. "The millers will have very good quality grain to mill. They will get more pounds of flour out of a bushel, so it's quite an economic advantage for them." Despite good grain quality, wheat yields are down. The Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service has estimated yields at around 62 bushels per acre, down five bushels from last year. Acres harvested were estimated at 800,000, down 11 percent from 2001.
Lipps said the variable weather conditions during the growing season contributed to the yield reduction.
"We assumed yields would be down for a number of reasons, including the wet spring that resulted in poor tiller development and smaller heads and the frost injury that occurred in several places throughout southern Ohio," he said. "But overall, yields have been very respectable." Yield numbers were across the board throughout Ohio. Fields in southern counties, such as Ross, that experienced freezing injury, produced only 10-30 bushels per acre. Grain fill in some wheat fields across southern Ohio was cut short due to high temperatures, also reducing yields.
In north central Ohio, by contrast, growers were reporting yields as high 100 bushels per acre in areas that escaped frost injury and experienced a normal grain filling period. Even in counties throughout northwest Ohio where fields were planted late or replanted, yields were running between 50 and 65 bushels per acre.
"We surveyed those fields from emergence to before harvest and it was very remarkable to see the wheat produce that many tillers late in the season and then continue tiller development in the spring. I think that was due to the favorable weather conditions we had in December and throughout the winter," said Lipps. "But it's a practice I hope we won't have to do again because the odds are against us to have that kind of fair winter weather." Jim Beuerlein, an Ohio State Extension agronomist, said that Ohio's grain fill period usually runs from 12 to 21 days long with 15 to 18 days being typical.
"A wheat crop produces from three to six bushels per acre per day during the grain fill period depending on the weather and disease pressure," he said. "This year, the crop produced about 4.5 bushels per acre per day. The weather was not ideal but there was very little disease."