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Mother Nature turns Kansas wheat harvest 'helter skelter'

Jeff Caldwell 06/24/2010 @ 11:00pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Parts of the state of Kansas have had considerably more moisture than normal this year. Throughout the growing season, that aided winter wheat crop. But now as farmers work to get this year's crop in the bin, what was once a blessing is turning into a curse.

While farmers say earlier estimates for the state's crop of 340 million bushels will likely be about right, the variable conditions are making it tougher to gauge just how many bushels will roll in when it's all said and done.

"It's difficult to tell whether that pace will hold up," says Kansas Wheat spokesman Bill Spiegel. "There are areas of Kansas in which harvest has been poor; there are areas where it has been excellent."

The good news, Spiegel says, is protein levels in the Kansas crop have come in ahead of average, a welcome trait in today's global marketplace and one that farmers hope can ultimately net them a little more return per bushel.

"We're hoping for good protein levels -- at least 12 and above -- because there is a surplus of low-quality wheat in the world," he adds. "So far, the Kansas crop does seem to have a little higher quality than we've seen in the Hard Red Winter wheat harvest overall."

Yields have varied widely, and Spiegel says he expects wheat in the northwestern part of the state to end up the best, with some irrigated fields possibly surpassing the 100-bushel-per-acre mark. That is, if farmers took steps to beat back the biggest disease threats to this year's crop, stripe and leaf rust.

"The crop was affected this spring by stripe and leaf rust, giving wheat farmers a good chance to see if fungicide applications were effective," he says. "'Producers who did apply fungicides typically experienced yield increases of 10-20 bushels per acre over untreated acres."

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