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Published August 19, 2013, 11:27 AM

Late harvest for early spring wheat

Some Red River Valley crops that were planted late have matured early.

By: Stephen J. Lee, Forum News Service

The earliest spring wheat being combined Aug. 14 on David Burkland’s field southwest of Grand Forks, N.D., still is pretty late, all things considered.

“It’s about a month behind last year,” says Mike Morgan, manager of the Thompson (N.D.) Farmer’s Elevator, where Burkland’s wheat was hauled in the morning. “I dumped our first wheat on July 17 last year.”

Last year, of course, was about as early as any growing season in memory in the greater Red River Valley, and crops turned out good.

Still, by Aug. 14 most years, about 25 percent of North Dakota’s spring wheat is harvested, instead of about 4 percent this year, according to a recent U.S. Department of Agriculture survey.

This year will be more of a mixed bag, Morgan says. “This wheat harvest will be stretched out.”

Right now, his elevator has an unusually slow pace for mid-August.

“We hope by the weekend or early next week, it will be going pretty good,” Morgan says.

It was a similar story Aug. 14 across the Red River at the Farmers Elevator in Eldred, Minn., about seven miles southwest of Crookston, where Manager Danny Grunewald, too, hasn’t seen much wheat yet.

“It’s pretty wet,” he says. “We checked a lot of samples in that 18 percent moisture range,” which is more than five points wetter than optimal harvest condition.

But what he’s seen so far looks good, Grunewald says. “Test weights running 63, 64 pounds, proteins on the high side at 14 percent, yields in the mid- to-upper 70s.”

Burkland’s wheat was some of the earliest wheat harvested in the region.

His field was planted May 11, early for this year, Burkland says.

“It had the benefit of those early rains and just had ideal growing conditions most of the summer.”

OK, so far

The yields have been showing above 60 bushels an acre, which is slightly above his farm average, and the test weights are at 62 pounds per bushel, heavier than normal and more desirable for milling.

Al Becker and Dan Ray piloted Burkland’s twin 2011 John Deere combines over the 280-acre field they would finish by mid-afternoon.

Retired now a decade from the Natural Resource Conservation Service in Grand Forks County, Rich Axvig still helps Burkland at harvest. On Aug. 14, he was running the grain cart from the combines to two trucks which hauled it in the afternoon to Burkland’s nearby farm yard.

“This is the best color I’ve seen in wheat in a long time,” he says, watching the dark red grain pour into a truck.

The dry weather the past few weeks that has stressed beans and corn also has meant no rain to bleach or stain grain.

“We haven’t had any meaningful rain for several weeks, so it does make a difference,” Burkland said about the wheat’s color. “But I will take rain any day. Obviously we’d like to keep going with harvest, but for those crops still growing — the soybeans and corn and sunflowers — we could use some rain.”

After the long, cold, wet spring, crops are expected to come in less abundantly than last year, which was remarkable across the Northern Plains.

North Dakota’s spring wheat crop is expected to be down 10 percent from last year’s 255 million bushels, with average yields at 41 bushels per acre, down from a record 45 bushels last year, according to a survey from the USDA’s statistical service in Fargo released last week.

Corn yields are expected to be down 5 percent from last year across North Dakota, soybean yields are expected to be down 6 percent, and the dry edible bean yield down a full 12 percent, USDA reports. But those harvests are weeks away.

Sugar beet yields in the Red River Valley are expected to be 21 percent lower than last year’s record level of 28 tons per acre, according to USDA.

Aug. 15, Burkland’s combines will roll through barley fields before he returns later to latter-day wheat fields once they finally ripen.

“I expect the later crop to drop off 15 to 20 bushels an acre from the first wheat harvested,” he says.