MANHATTAN, KAS. — Seventy-six wheat scouts gathered in central Kansas on Monday afternoon on the eve of the 2019 Hard Winter Wheat Tour were told they would see a slice of real Kansas agriculture as they measured crop progress and condition in up to 300 Kansas wheat fields a day over the subsequent three days.
The assembled group, a representation of nearly every stakeholder in the value chain, including growers, millers, bakers, seed merchandisers, grain companies, academia and the media, planned a predawn departure Tuesday, traveling in 21 rented SUVs and minivans in teams of four. Along five separate circuitous routes through the Kansas countryside (and a five-county stretch of southern Nebraska), drivers planned to stop randomly at 10 to 12 wheat fields and record measures of height, growth stage, stand, and look for signs of disease. A proprietary formula devised by the National Agricultural Statistics Service would then be deployed using the measure of tillers per foot to predict the potential bushels per acre yield.
Scouts were warned to don mud boots and rain attire for what was almost certain to be a damp Tuesday leg of the tour. Forecasts called for mostly rain and temperatures hovering in the 50s. But spirits were high among wheat folks from all along the supply chain anticipating a first look at the 2019 hard winter crop.
And weather conditions were never a factor in tour attendance, said industry veteran Dave Green, executive vice-president of the Wheat Quality Council and one of the tour’s principal organizers.
“This year we have 76 confirmed for each day of the tour,” Mr. Green said. “But I don’t think it has anything to do with the weather, or anything to do with the crop. I think it usually has to do with the health of the industry. When companies are hiring, we get a lot more attendance because it’s an introduction to the industry. So we consider good crowd a good sign that the industry is doing well and people are getting hired and need training.”
Scouts were likely to see a much different crop compared with last season due to the plentiful moisture experienced over the winter. A map shown Monday night indicated no Kansas wheat was growing in drought, a sharp contrast with a yellow, orange and brown-filled drought map that represented conditions during the 2018 tour. At the same time, some planting delays experienced last fall may have prevented some later-planted fields from establishing themselves before cooling temperatures sent them into dormancy.
“Looking at crop condition reports and weekly weather, there’s no question we’ve had good soil moisture in the winter and through the spring,” Mr. Green said. “And there was a lot of concern of wheat not getting established due to late planting last year. But I think that most of it has come through the winter and the stands are thickening and the soil moisture has been a great benefit to the crop.”
Scouts also will look for signs of insect and disease damage and try to get a sense of their prevalence, one aspect of defining the prospects for hard winter wheat in 2019. And, scouts will attempt to determine how many weeks until harvest.
“(The tour) gives us an assessment of the crop at this point in time,” said Aaron Harries, vice-president of research and operations at Kansas Wheat and one of the tour organizers. “It’s the potential if all things were to remain equal: this is what the number may be at the end of harvest.
“The problem with Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Colorado is between now and harvest, we may have floods, rains, drought, hail, wind, disease, pestilence. The wheat crop has a lot to go up against before we get to harvest. So this is really a snapshot right now of what we think the crop may be.”
After wending its way across northcentral Kansas and southern Nebraska, tour participants planned to reassemble at Frahm Farmland near Colby, Kas., for dinner and a discussion of the days findings hosted by producer Lon Frahm.