The 2019 spring wheat and durum planting season was stalled by late-spring snow, along with constant rains in some of the key growing areas of the Northern Plains. Fast forward to September and early October and the same can be said for the harvest that never wants to end.
Keith Brandt, general manager of Plains Grain and Agronomy LLC in Enderlin, North Dakota, said in late June that spring wheat acres in his area were down 10% to 12% from what farmers had intended to plant. “There is a big range in planting dates of April 23 to June 11. Because of the cool and damp conditions, wheat planted by mid-May looks very good and has decent potential. The balance will be 10 to 15 bushels per acre (bpa) less on yield.”
Brandt said on Oct. 3 that the 2019 crop was “certainly not the fanciest wheat crop we have ever harvested and we are still not 100% done with 1% to 2% of standing wheat left. We have an average yield of 50-55 bushels per acre, 14.5% protein and grading No. 2NS, average 270 falling numbers and average 2.7 vomitoxin.”
Brandt said the crop is tough to market because it’s all commingled due to most of the crop coming in wet and having to be dried. “Markets seems to handle falling numbers easier than vomitoxin and we can use the low falling numbers for delivery wheat. A lot of western and northern North Dakota got most of their crop off in good condition before this terrible weather set in. Will be an adequate supply of milling wheat. Just have to find that number where they will sell.”
As of Sept. 30, Minnesota Department of Ag is estimating that 3% of Minnesota wheat is still unharvested. “It is hard to describe this year’s spring wheat harvest without using four-letter words,” said Tim Dufault, of Crookston, Minnesota.
“The harvest on our farm lasted 31 days; there were nine days of measurable rain and a stretch of 14 days where it was just cool and damp and unfit to harvest. Yields in northwest Minnesota were averaging over 70 bpa with 60-pound-plus test weights. Proteins varied by variety but much of the crop was over 14%.
“Then, as the rain events started to take their toll, test weights started to drop, sprout damage showed up and the term ‘falling numbers’ returned to farmer’s vocabulary. Elevators soon stopped buying wheat under 200 falling numbers. The last couple of fields for us averaged about 55 bpa, 58-pound test weight and the falling numbers were down to 66.”
Dufault, who is a board member on the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, said that people he has visited with are estimating that 25% of the hard red spring crop will be feed wheat. “Wheat yield overall should be a little bit above average. In a nutshell, this year’s wheat was poor quality, not worth anything, but there was a lot of it,” Dufault added.
Nathan Olsonawski, of Hallock, Minnesota, said, “We had average yield and good quality to start with but as the wet weather set in, quality took a big hit, especially with falling numbers.”
“Harvest went well,” said Kerry Baldwin, of Hope, North Dakota. “Finished up around the 23rd of August and yields were slightly below average, around the low 50s. Quality was good, falling numbers around 350, test weight was 62 to 64 lbs. Protein was in the 14.5% range on average.
“We took a dime discount on one quarter section of wheat because the vomitoxin was around 2 parts per million (ppm) while the other quarter section had no discount. We were fortunate to get our wheat harvested when we did. There was a lot of wheat harvested in September and still some left now in October for some people.”
“This year’s spring wheat crop was a challenge from start to finish,” said Tim Luken, manager at Oahe Grain, in Onida, South Dakota. “Planting back in April through May was very slow going due to the early April blizzard dumping 30 inches of snow and then the addition of all the weekly rain events we had. This weather set up the tone for the rest of the growing season.”
Sully County usually starts spring wheat harvest the third week of July, but this year Luken said harvest didn’t start until Aug. 6 or almost two weeks later. “We finally finished around Sept. 20 and we are usually done by second week of August. Surprisingly, the quality of our spring wheat was good; yes, there was scab present this year (usually don’t see it here) and that was due to rain events we had during the flowering of the wheat.
“With all the rain we had this year on a weekly basis from start to finish, I was very pleased with quality. I feel the reason we had good quality is that the planted crop was so spread out in the spring, delaying the ripening of the crop before it could be harvested. When it did rain, it didn’t hurt the later crops and the crops that were being harvested were taken off with minimal days of rain, which didn’t take a toll on quality.
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“Sprout damage was very isolated in certain areas. Overall, we are very happy because it could have been much worse. At the elevator, we took in 643,000 bushels with protein average around 15% and average test weight was 59.6 lbs.”
Jerry Cope, who does the grain marketing for Dakota Mill and Grain Inc. in Rapid City, South Dakota, said that their spring wheat acres were down over 50% mainly due to the late wet spring that prevented planting more acres. “Acreage intentions had been higher than a year ago mainly to keep within rotations,” said Cope.
“Wheat that was planted matured early enough to escape most of the damage,” said Cope. “Harvested wheat overall has test weights of 59 lbs to 60-plus lbs and quality was good. Vomitoxin was easily under 2.0 ppm, very little damage and falling numbers were above 300. The exception was East River where vomitoxin was more common. Rain did slow harvest and the weed growth created high dockage and in some cases, dropped color from northern to red spring wheat.
“There is frustration among customers with red spring wheat showing no vomitoxin, no sprout and high falling numbers being lumped in the same non-milling category as the sprouted, low falling numbers wheat in North Dakota and Canada. The same severe discounts for a “color only” issue and not a USDA grade factor is hard to explain.”
There are three subclasses for U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat. U.S. Wheat Associates states that, “subclass is a separate marketing factor based on the number of kernels with a complete, hard and vitreous endosperm.” Flour milled from HRS wheat with greater percentages of dark, hard, vitreous (DHV) kernel shows higher water absorption capacity for bread making.
The three classes are: dark northern spring (DNS) consisting of 75% or more dark, hard vitreous kernels; northern spring (NS), between 25 and 74% dark, hard vitreous kernels; and red spring (RS), less than 25% dark, hard, vitreous kernels.
Cope added that, “Movement has been better than the crop size would indicate as growers make room for a big fall crop and sell for cash needs. Expect spring wheat movement to stop once row crop harvest begins.”
A farmer in eastern South Dakota said that he finished up harvest on Aug. 30 and yields were average to slightly below average with a lot of lodging, which cost him yield and adversely affected quality. He noted that despite the fact he finished up before the big rains hit in early to mid-September, there was still plenty of rain and many humid nights and mornings after the crop ripened in August, which resulted in some sprouting.
“Test weights started out in the 62- to 63-pound area, but after the rain we lost test weight and most of it will be in the 58-59 range,” he said “Falling numbers values are all over the place ranging from the low 200s to low 300s, but I’m afraid most of it is going to be in that 225-275 range. Vomitoxin levels so far have been hovering around 2.0 ppm but have heard reports of 5.0 ppm and higher.”
Allan Klain, who farms northwest of Turtle Lake, North Dakota, said that yields and quality were good for the most part early on. “We were hand to mouth with precipitation until late August, but since then have received 12.5 inches of rain. Quality issues with low falling numbers are a real problem with any wheat harvested after Sept. 10.
“We have 10,000 bushels of hailed “junk” wheat that we binned and haven’t tested yet. Our hired man went to Canada on Sept. 9 and estimated 70% of the wheat was still out from Minot north. All in all, we were slightly above average yield in the 50s on wheat. We will start beans Oct. 7 ahead of a forecast of 8-plus inches of snow expected in four days. Will be filling trucks on road with cart as it is way too soft in field,” said Klain.
As the delays in harvest moved deep into September and quality continued to deteriorate, the cash price increased. The DTN National Hard Red Spring Wheat Index on Sept. 1 was at $4.33 and rose to $5.03 by Oct. 1.
The Minneapolis spot basis moved higher in late-September when there were few milling cars showing up for sale, but as more cars came to market recently, the spot basis began to weaken. However, once farmers start soybean and corn harvest, car counts on the spot market will likely decrease.
LATE DURUM CROP IN BAD SHAPE
The recent USDA crop progress report estimated that 78% of the North Dakota durum crop and 55% of the Montana crop had been harvested by the end of September. The North Dakota Wheat Commission said that, “as with spring wheat, it is likely some of the durum crop simply won’t be harvested and quality on the remaining crop will be compromised.”
North Dakota farmers on social media disagree with the USDA reporting that 78% of durum is harvested. Many said they haven’t turned a wheel in more than a week and it might be another week before they get going. One farmer noted that he was only 35% done on durum and knows of other farmers who hadn’t even started yet and may end up tilling the crop up.
BJ Wehrman, of Ambrose, North Dakota, said he lives in the heart of durum country and there is more left to combine than has been cut. “If 50% has been cut I would be surprised, and it’s not ‘backyarditis’ because it extends all the way to the South Dakota border and west a couple hundred miles into Montana.
“It’s not good up here. Canola is sprouting, wheat is sprouting and starting to lay down. Have even heard of some flax and safflower sprouting also. I haven’t turned a wheel in nine days. Started harvest approximately Aug. 21 and I don’t think we have had more than three days of work in a row,” said Wehrman.
“We are in a historically strong durum area, but a lot of guys have moved away from that over the last eight years or so and shifted to spring wheat since quality is easier to maintain, but it’s getting tougher and tougher each year to even want to plant much wheat, let alone durum.”
Wehrman added that, “This is the first year on our farm in probably 50 years that we had zero acres of durum and man, am I glad we didn’t. We pushed hard and got all our spring wheat off with only one small rain on it. If we had durum, it would still be in field, as we normally plant durum last, around May 20, and it wouldn’t have been off yet.”
Cash durum prices have been climbing and are in the $8.00-plus range (basis delivered Chicago/beyond) and continue to rise. Some mill buyers said that there aren’t many offers in the U.S. or even Canada; Canadian durum is in rough or even worse shape.
When I traded durum in the past and there was a quality issue, farmers with good milling quality would “padlock” their durum bins and bide their time until they needed cash.
A few farmers I have talked with the past few weeks have mentioned that they are weighing whether or not to file a crop insurance claim because of the poor quality issues in the wheat crop, but said it’s not an easy decision because of how it would affect their actual production history yield (APH) going forward.
This has been a rough year for many farmers and it’s going to get worse. DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Bryce Anderson noted in his Oct. 7 forecast that “a season-ending freeze is indicated for the Northern and western Plains and the northwestern Midwest this week, along with harvest-disrupting rain and snow.”
National Weather Service’s Bismarck, North Dakota office has indicated widespread, accumulating snow beginning Oct. 9, and possibly continuing through Friday in western and central North Dakota. This will be a knife through the hearts of farmers in those areas.
Luken summed it up well: “This is the longest small grain harvest I have ever seen in the 40 years I have been in this business. I hope Mother Nature gives us a break for the 2020 growing season because we really need one.”
Mary Kennedy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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