Del., Md. wheat tours reveal above-average crop
Recent wheat crop tours by grain buyers, millers and crop consultants showed the potential for the Mid-Atlantic to have a better-than-average harvest this year.
Weather can still play a factor as the crop reaches maturity in the next few weeks, tour leaders also stressed.
Last week, a tour of Delmarva wheat fields in Sussex and Kent counties in Delaware and Talbot and Kent counties in Maryland showed good quality with high yield potential, said Mark Sultenfuss, crop insurance agent and agronomist at Nagel Farm Service and a tour organizer.
“The’re going to have some handsome yields,” Sultenfuss said. “Maybe not record breakers, but it’s a far cry from what I thought we might have at Thanksgiving.”
While incidence of fusarium head blight, or head scab, was noted in some fields it doesn’t appear to be at the high levels that impacted farmers’ yields in recent years.
While experts also noted that research hasn’t been able to find a direct correlation between head scab levels and levels of vomitoxin that triggers price docking at grain elevators, they urged timely fungicide application to control disease. The weather at the crop’s flowering stage and growth stage of secondary tillers all play into the decision making.
“You’ve got to find that sweet spot where it’s the most opportune time to spray,” Sultenfuss said.
During one tour stop at Willin Farms in Seaford, Del., Brent Willin said fungicide application is essential to their program.
Willin said with an application applied at the flag leaf stage, “I’ll always make my money back,” and using the newly introduced Miravis Ace product which claims a wider application window, “provided outstanding control.”
The Delmarva tour was one of several tours in the Mid-Atlantic designed to give grain handlers and end users a sense of local crop quality and quantity before harvest begins.
Sultenfuss said observations from tours in western Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania were similar to Delmarva in crop quality and yield potential.
One outlier, though, appears to be in Northern Pennsylvania where growers had seed emergence issues and the crop is in too early a growth stage to be susceptible stop head scab.
Aaron Amundson, associate trader for Ardent Mills, said participating in the wheat tours helps him see firsthand what the grower has to do in trying to meet end user requirements.
“It just helps you understand a little more about the agronomy, the disease issues, inputs and what it takes to grow the crop,” he said. “When I’m reading reports, it just helps add tangibility to what I’m reading.”
After seeing several fields, Amundson was also encouraged by the quality.
“My gut tells me this is a healthier, better crop than we had last year,” he said. “I’m hoping for an easier crop to deal with on the milling side.”
Wheat acres are down for the area, Sultenfuss added, due to a wet fall inhibiting planting along with discouraging market prices.
“The market wasn’t asking people to grow a bunch of wheat last year,” he said. Maryland dropped 35,000 acres in wheat expected to be harvested compared to last year, USDA data shows.
The wet fall kept many growers to planting their better quality fields which could also contribute to good crop quality, Sultenfuss added.
It’s a similar situation in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula, where industry representatives examined wheat on 18 farms in 10 counties on May 30.
Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation’s grain manager, said they were “pleasantly surprised to find a crop that looks to be in line, from a yield perspective, with what Virginia normally grows.” He called the crop “a little better than average, which is a lot to be thankful for in a year that was full of weather challenges.”
Potential yield on the tour’s northern piedmont and Northern Neck farms averaged 65 bushels per acre.
Harper noted that excessive rainfall appears to have negated some nitrogen applications, which growers make according to their farms’ nutrient management plans. It’s likely, he concluded, that heavy rains caused the nitrogen to leech down into the soil profile beyond where the wheat could get the full benefit.
On a positive note, he continued, fungicide applications appear to have been well-timed. “We saw very little disease pressure on May 30,” which could mean more milling-grade wheat will be harvested.
Statewide, Virginia farmers expect to harvest 7.13 million bushels of winter wheat this year, according to the Virginia field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That forecast represents a 23-percent decrease when compared to the 2018 harvest. Yields, however, are forecast up slightly—62 bushels per acre, compared to 60 bushels in 2018.
Wheat growers seeded 180,000 acres last fall; they predict 115,000 acres will be harvested for grain, which is a record low according to USDA, while the other 65,000 were planted as a cover crop or will be cut for silage or hay.
Even with a sunny outlook now, farmers aren’t cleared of crop damage from heavy rains. Wheat at maturity subjtected to heavy rains and prolonged moisture can swell and contract again, losing test weight, Sultenfuss said. Wheat sprouting in the field can be another issue and lead to dockages.
“You can do everything right and get right to the finish line and get three days of rain and have test weight of 54 when you want 58 or better,” he said.
“What we need now is a stretch of dry weather for the wheat to be harvested,” said Delmarva tour organizer Lee Sproull, director of grain marketing for Mountaire Farms. “Obviously, we don’t need the rain to completely shut off as our corn is in need of regular rains. Wheat is sensitive to too much rain after it is mature and too much rain can diminish the quality of what we are calling today, ‘a very nice wheat crop potential.’”
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