The wheat harvest began as much as two weeks early this year in southcentral Kentucky because of early warm temperatures. But those warm temperatures, and then a brief cold snap, have wreaked havoc on the crop’s yield, which some farmers say has been cut nearly in half.
“We’ve had big blocks where the average was just about 12 bushels an acre. The highest we’ve had is in the mid-50s,” said Joe Neal Ballance, who farms about 5,100 acres of wheat in Warren, Simpson and Logan counties. “That’s about half the crop we normally would get.”
Ballance said the problem occurred when low temperatures came as the crop was pollinating. That happened earlier than usual because of the mostly mild winter.
Across the state, some fields are really bad, with averages in the 20-bushel range, he said.
“But in far western counties, where it didn’t get as cool, I’ve heard of some 75s,” Ballance said.
Typically, his crop averages about 80 bushels an acre.
Ballance said farmers with cattle in some instances would have been better off cutting the fields as silage for feed rather than combining it for wheat.
“It’s not a quality issue, the quality is really good,” he said.
David Hunt, who has about 2,300 acres of wheat in the Rich Pond, Woodburn and Rockfield areas, says in his case the lack of rain when the wheat was making a head also impacted his yields.
“I was very disappointed,” Hunt said. “We averaged about 60 bushels an acre and we normally get about 85.
“I’m hearing about the same thing from other farmers,” Hunt said. “But if you were north of town, where it was a degree or two warmer, things are a little better off.”
Jack Estes is one of those who farms in north Warren County. He has about 550 acres in wheat.
“I’m averaging a little over 60 bushels an acre and feel pretty fortunate after hearing what some of my friends are making,” Estes said, noting his harvest was wrapping up Friday. “We had two nights that had those freezing temperatures, and other than that it was a perfect year for growing wheat.”
For the first time during harvest, Estes said he watched the elevation level on the combine guidance system.
“On the top of a hill or on the south side, the yield was double what it made at the bottom,” he said.
Ballance and Hunt also noted the same incidence, saying the cold temperatures settled in at lower elevations for longer.
All three men said they were finishing the harvest nearly two weeks earlier than most years, allowing them to quickly come behind and plant soybeans.
The state Agricultural Statistics Service on Monday estimated that about 50 percent of the wheat crop had been harvested, compared to zero percent for the same time last year.
“Since the soybeans are getting in earlier ... we are hoping to be able to make up the difference,” Estes said.
The warm temperatures also have made the corn shoot up higher than would be expected at this time of year, and it has started to form tassels, a critical time for rain.
“We’ve been fortunate in the northern part of the county to have a little more rain than they have had in the south and western part,” Estes said. “But we are hoping for another rain Monday or Tuesday when they are calling for a chance of it.”
Estes said he has about 900 acres of corn.
As for the wheat crop, Estes said he sold about half of it in advance on contract for about $8 a bushel.
“I expect I won’t get but about $6 a bushel for the rest of it,” he said. “We took a trip to Vegas once and I didn’t gamble.”
Estes said he was asked why not.
“I gamble enough as it is,” he said. “People who knew I was a farmer understood what I meant.”