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Wheat tour sees late but above average crop in North Dakota

The Wheat Quality Council tour is led by some experts in the growing of wheat, but many of the participants are from other areas of the industry, such as milling and baking or promoting trade, and come to learn more about spring wheat and durum.

two people in a field of wheat
Bart Bender and Shoshana Griffith discuss the condition of wheat in a field in north-central North Dakota on Wednesday, July 27, 2022, as part of the Wheat Quality Council tour.
Jeff Beach / Agweek
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DEVILS LAKE, N.D. — With yard sticks, pens and calculators, participants in the annual Wheat Quality Tour fanned out across North Dakota and northwest Minnesota in recent days to gauge the prospects for this year’s wheat crop.

Participants on the tour saw a crop that is behind schedule for development but has benefitted from great growing conditions after planting and should produce an above average crop.

Close up of wheat plant with tan streaked leaves
Some wheat fields on the 2022 Wheat Quality Council tour showed signs of bacterial leaf streak.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

Ed Kessel, who farms north of Belfield, North Dakota, and was driving on the tour, said he expects an above-average crop, but says it needs to be above average to pencil out.

“It’s still going to take an average wheat crop to pay the bills this year,” Kessel said. “This is going to be the most expensive wheat crop I’ve planted for sure.”

After the completion of the tour, the average yield calculated by tour participants was 49.1 bushels per acre for hard red spring wheat, 39 bushels per acre for durum and 27.5 for hard red winter.

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These strong yields come despite planting that came as late as June 13 in fields near the Canadian border. About 40% of the crop was planted in June; planting would typically wrap up in mid-May.

The improved yields are welcome for wheat growers who endured miserable yields in 2021.

Ed Kessel MUG.jpg
Ed Kessel is a Belfield, North Dakota, farmer who was part of the 2022 Wheat Quality Council tour.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

“It looks a lot better this year than last year for sure,” said Kessel, who's also vice president of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association. “There’s a good crop out there.”

Harvest is still at least three weeks away for most of the wheat and observers said a lot of fields won’t be harvested until September.

Erica Olson of the North Dakota Wheat Commission noted that southwest North Dakota, where Kessel farms, has been wetter than the southeast part of the state, which is unusual.

“The crop looks great, it’s just very late,” Olson said.

While they were not a problem in the Red River Valley and southern North Dakota counties, some fields did have a lot of grasshoppers.

“There’s things chewing at this crop yet but I think overall it should be above average, slightly average,” Kessel said.

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Kessel said the grasshopper problem, which was intensified by last year’s drought, is an ongoing one.

“The problem with grasshoppers is they’re just going to keep on keeping on,” Kessel said, saying that spraying is only a short-term patch and grasshoppers on the fly are hard to control.

Close up of wheat kernels in a pair of hands
Participants on the 2022 Wheat Quality Council tour judged the stage of the wheat found in fields, which mostly were in milk to early dough stages.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

While the tour is led by some experts in the growing of wheat, many of the participants are from other areas of the industry, such as milling and baking or promoting trade, and come to learn more about spring wheat. Participants get a lesson in Fargo on how to take measurements and estimate wheat yield and then carloads criss-cross the Red River Valley of Minnesota and across North Dakota, gathering to share information at overnight stops in Mandan and Devils Lake, North Dakota, before returning to Fargo.

Woman with a yard stick in a wheat field.
Tyllor Ledford, with U.S. Wheat Associates, a group that promotes wheat exports, measures out a 3-foot section of a row. The number of wheat heads in the section are then counted to help calculate yield potential.
Jeff Beach / Agweek

While growth in corn and soybean acres has made it harder to find wheat fields in some parts of the state, North Dakota is still a leader in wheat production.

Despite late planting for many farmers, this year’s crop could put North Dakota ahead of Kansas in wheat production.

Tour officials touted the presence of some of the biggest users of wheat in North America on the tour, such as Bimbo Bakeries, the makers of Sarah Lee bread and other brands, General Mills and Nestle.

Kessel said the real value in the tour for him is “talking with the millers and the bakers and the end-users and officials that come out to look at the crop and showcase agriculture.

“Show them what we’re doing, what we’re seeing out in the field and why farmers do things certain ways and get that connection with the end-user.”

Reach Jeff Beach at jbeach@agweek.com or call 701-451-5651 (work) or 859-420-1177.
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