FARGO, North Dakota — The 2021 Spring Wheat Tour shows two-thirds of a crop in North Dakota, northeast South Dakota and northwest Minnesota — better than feared — and with good milling quality.

Dave Green, executive vice president of the Wheat Quality Council, based in Kansas City, Missouri, in an interview at the reporting session at the end of the three-day tour on July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota, said the drought-reduced crop volume “is what it is,” but that quality looks strong and better than expected.

The spring wheat average for the tour was a 29.1 bushel-per-acre yield, which was 67.5% of the 43.1 bushel per acre yield in the 2019 tour. The five-year tour average from 2015 to 2019 was 43.6 bushels.

Durum fields showed a 24.3 bushel per acre yield, down from 32 bushels per acre in 2019 and the five-year tour average of 39.1

Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, comments emphasizes high quality on a drought-reduced crop in the reporting session at the conclusion of the Wheat Quality Council’s annual Spring Wheat Tour. The three-day event ended in Fargo, North Dakota, and the reporting is at the Northern Crops Institute on the campus of North Dakota State University. Photo taken July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, comments emphasizes high quality on a drought-reduced crop in the reporting session at the conclusion of the Wheat Quality Council’s annual Spring Wheat Tour. The three-day event ended in Fargo, North Dakota, and the reporting is at the Northern Crops Institute on the campus of North Dakota State University. Photo taken July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

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The tour started in Fargo and swung generally to the Bismarck, Minot and Devils Lake areas in North Dakota, before returning to Fargo. Here were day-by-day summaries:

  • July 27, 2021 — Northern South Dakota, southern third of North Dakota, and east-central and southwest North Dakota, showed an average yield of 29.5, which compares to a five-year average in the 40 bushel-per acre range. Durum wheat in the area averaged 26.5 bushels per acre. “As you got toward the (Missouri) River, things got dismal,” Green said.

  • July 28, 2021 — Northwest and north-central and central North Dakota showed that the “red area on the drought map was as bad as advertised,” Green said. The day averaged about 24.6 bushels per acre for spring wheat and 23.6 bushels for the durum. “They found good wheat on the perimeter, but as you dropped toward (U.S. Highway) 2, it got bad again,” he said.

  • July 29, 2021 — Northeast and east-central North Dakota, and the western edge of Minnesota. Tour cars showed a range of results. The calculated yield for the area was 35.4 bushels per acre, down from 48.4 bushels in 2019 and down from the average of 48.4 bushels for the past five tours.

The council is an effort by wheat breeders, farmers and processors to improve U.S. wheat and flour quality. The organization sponsors organizes wheat crop tours in other parts of the U.S. and in North Dakota.

The three-day tour of the spring wheat region often attracts younger individuals in grain trading, milling and baking industries. Spring-planted wheat historically is some of the nation’s highest milling quality. Tour participants fan out in vehicle teams along established annual routes and collect information based on field measurements.

Quality positivity

“I think the consensus was — and the wheat coming into the elevator now — is that that the test weight is not going to be a problem,” Green said. ”We think this is going to be a nice, high-quality crop.”

Early season samples show a healthy 60 to 62 pounds per bushel test weight range and protein in the 14% to 16% percent range, experts on the tour reported. The industry typically looks for a 14.5% protein level.

No one yet knows how many of the low-bushel crops won’t be harvested and will either be abandoned or cut for animal feed.

“If you start plowing up these low-yield fields, the (remaining) yield numbers will go up,” Green said. Crop volume estimates, of course, would go down with abandoned fields.

Neal Fisher, administrator for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said this year’s crop had been stressed at many stages, from emergence to late stages.

Neal Fisher, administrator for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, was on the three-day annual Spring Wheat Tour based largely in North Dakota, which ended July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Fisher said this year’s wheat has  been stressed through all of its stages, but that quality of the remaining crop is largely good. Photo taken July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. 
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Neal Fisher, administrator for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, was on the three-day annual Spring Wheat Tour based largely in North Dakota, which ended July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Fisher said this year’s wheat has been stressed through all of its stages, but that quality of the remaining crop is largely good. Photo taken July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek
“Perhaps the (drought-stressed) tillers receded soon enough that when the ‘mother plant’ was putting all the energy into those one or two heads that were left, the berry size or kernel size actually came out relatively good,” Fisher said. “This isn’t universal, just like rainfall isn’t universal.”

Some farmers have been concerned about elevators discounting farmers for high protein, but Fisher doesn’t see that.

“We haven’t heard anything about that yet,” Fisher said. The hard red winter wheat crops were rated “extremely low” in the Central Plains states, so the high-protein spring wheat should be an advantage as an ingredient for blending. Spring wheat often gets a “class premium,” and not just because of protein.

“I think this is one of those years when that could happen,” he said.

Similarly, Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, was on the tour and said it was significant the calculations from 270 fields shows about a two-thirds yield from “better times.”

Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, said results from 270 fields in the annual Spring Wheat Quality Tour show yields at two-thirds of normal, and early quality results from what’s harvested show good test weights and strong proteins. Photo taken July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. 
Mikkel Pates / Agweek
Reid Christopherson, executive director of the South Dakota Wheat Commission, said results from 270 fields in the annual Spring Wheat Quality Tour show yields at two-thirds of normal, and early quality results from what’s harvested show good test weights and strong proteins. Photo taken July 29, 2021, in Fargo, North Dakota. Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Quality is tough to see in the field he said, and will come with analysis after harvest. Half of the South Dakota crop was harvested as of July 29, 2021, and farmers have seen good test weights and strong proteins.

Green said there were 45 registered participants, which compared to about 80 in the pre-COVID tours. The tour ran 11 cars, compared to 20 in 2019. Many of the participants were government and university people.

“A lot of companies are still hesitant to send people out,” Green said. “We expect to get back to a much bigger number next year.”