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Joel Wieczorek harvests his field of wheat on Tuesday afternoon northwest of Stickney. Matt Gade / Forum News Service

Projections show South Dakota winter wheat yield up 90 percent from 2017

MITCHELL, S.D.—Despite in 2017 battling one of the toughest years for winter wheat production, South Dakota farmers are expecting to see a big spike in production this season.

Projected totals for the crop have spiked to roughly 39.4 million bushels, up 90 percent from last year's crop, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

Ideal weather conditions paired with adequate moisture have winter wheat farmers expecting to see the average yield forecast at 54 bushels per acre, which is up 14 bushels from last year.

Wayne Gronseth, owner of Agronomic Crop Consulting and Gronseth Farms in Mitchell, said wheat farmers could easily see over and above this year's projected average yield, which he believes could be at roughly 60 to 80 bushels per acre.

"The cooler weather and rainfall have helped the crop tremendously, and there (are) some good fields of wheat coming," Gronseth said.

After winter wheat is planted in the fall, the plant germinates and goes dormant over the winter. The crop depends on moisture from winter precipitation to continue growth in the spring and be ready for harvest in July and August, which is typically when South Dakota farmers harvest the crop.

Area farmers and agronomists primarily blame drought-like conditions and winterkill for 2017 being one of the worst years of production South Dakota winter wheat farmers have ever experienced. According to the USDA's figures, South Dakota farmers managed to produce a mere 20.8 million bushels of winter wheat last year, which is one of the lowest production totals in decades.

Although South Dakota's winter wheat growth depends on winter seasonal elements, extreme conditions and cold temps can be the crop's worst nightmare and cause winterkill, which essentially kills the plant.

Todd Yeaton, a farmer and manager of Gavilon Grain in Kimball, said the winterkill has been nearly absent compared to last year.

"Weather-wise, we're in really good shape," Yeaton said. "We had nice moisture going into the fall, which made for a great planting season."

Last year's winter wheat struggles have led to the lowest amount of acres planted in 45 years.

Despite the fear of another tough season growing winter wheat, farmers who took the gamble of planting have betters days ahead as a forecasted 730,000 acres of winter wheat are expected to be harvested this year, up 210,000 acres from 2017, according to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Services.

Yeaton said he is thankful for the weather cooperating for this year's South Dakota wheat farmers, showing the difference one year of adequate precipitation makes.

"It's crazy to think a year ago, we went from the middle of May to July without a single bit of precipitation," he said. "We're in as ideal shape for a great winter wheat crop as we could be."