KANSAS CITY — The US winter wheat harvest picked up momentum during the July 4 holiday weekend, and millers and bakers could not help but be encouraged by the quality of the supply garnered as combines made their way northward. To the relief of bread bakers, higher protein in the hard red winter wheat being harvested in northern Kansas was expected to pull the state’s average protein higher. And millers as well as cookie-cracker and specialty bakers looked forward to working a soft red winter wheat crop that may be vastly superior in quality than the crop harvested last year.

The US Department of Agriculture in its weekly Crop Progress report said the winter wheat harvest by July 5 was 80% completed in Kansas (47% a week earlier), 100% in Oklahoma, 98% in Texas (96%), 16% in Nebraska (1%) and 36% in Colorado (15%). Combining had yet to extend into the northern Plains states of South Dakota and Montana.

New crop samples taken from Texas, Oklahoma and south central Kansas featured favorable test weight and low but good-quality protein, according to the latest US Wheat Associates weekly harvest summary issued July 3.

Based on 125 samples taken from those areas, 2020 hard red winter wheat was averaging 62.5 lbs in test weight (60.8 lbs as the 2019 crop average), 11.2% in protein (11.3%) and 33 grams in thousand kernel weight (33.1 grams). The average grade of the samples was No. 1 hard red winter, the same as the 2019 crop average.

Laboratories were expected to examine 500 samples from the new crop with additional samples taken from progressively more northern areas.

As combines worked their way northward, the protein level of the wheat harvested began to rise, particularly in northern and northwest Kansas and eastern Colorado. Wheat offers began to feature wheat with higher protein, and the cash hard red winter wheat basis in Kansas City began to weaken across the top two-thirds of the protein scale.

Millers and bakers were hopeful the trend toward higher wheat protein in the later harvest will continue as combines move into the heart of Nebraska.

Kansas Wheat in its 15th and 16th daily harvest reports of season (the 16th report will be the final daily report of the season and will be followed by a harvest summary to be issued July 13) zeroed in on Gove, Ottawa, Jewell, Ellsworth, Russell, Republic, Norton and Decatur counties.

 Producers indicated harvesting in Gove County, in west central Kansas, started June 20-21 but has been slowed by rain interruptions. Combining was estimated at about 75% completed. Yields have been below average for the area, but protein has run above 12% with test weights averaging about 60 lbs.

Producers in Ottawa County, north central Kansas, said combining was completed. Protein was high at about 13.8% compared with 11.5% in 2019. Yields were average.

The harvest in Jewell County, north central Kansas, began July 2, well behind the average date due to wet weather. Wetness prodded producers to apply fungicide. The harvest in central Kansas’ Ellsworth and Russell counties began June 17, was interrupted by rain and then resumed a week later. Yields ranged widely from 20 bus per acre to 70 and averaged 45 to 55 bus per acre. Harvesting was expected to be completed in the next several days versus July 4, the average date for completion.

A producer in Republic County (north central Kansas) said about 25% of the wheat in the northern part of the county was harvested by July 8, and wheat in the southern part of the county was 50% combined. Yields have been in the mid-40- bu-per-acre range.

A producer near Norton (northwest Kansas) began harvesting July 1 and said combining was 40% completed by July 8. Protein levels ranged from 12.7% to 13.9%. Yields were average but below those seen in the previous three years. Test weights were variable, ranging from 54 to 65 lbs per bu, because of a late spring freeze and more recent hot windy weather that occurred during grain fill.

A producer in Decatur County (northwest Kansas) began harvesting on July 2, and by July 7, farmers had combined about half the crop. Protein levels ranged from 10.3% to 11%. Yields ranged from 35 to 55 bus per acre.

Combining was underway across southern Nebraska, according to the Nebraska Wheat Board in its weekly crop report issued July 8.

Producers in the south central region of Nebraska said harvesting has begun along counties near the Kansas border with producers in northern portions of the region poised to begin combining. Test weights of harvested wheat have been about 60 lbs per bu. Yields ranged from 30 to 70 bus per acre with the early average put at about 50 bus per acre.

Combining has just begun in southeast Nebraska with high humidity in the region slowing early progress, but harvesting was expected to accelerate quickly in the next several days.

Producers in the southern panhandle region of Nebraska were just beginning to harvest their crop. Test weights of the wheat harvested to date have been 60 to 61 lbs per bu, and protein was running from 11% to 13%. The wheat board commented, “Overall, it is noted that the wheat crop lost a lot of tillers with the hard freeze this year. However, the protein levels seem to be increased due to the hot and dry weather the region experienced. Producers are fairly happy with the quality of the crop so far.”

Combing in southwest Nebraska was nearly completed. This region has been dry for the entire growing season. Elevators have seen some low test weights. The range in test weights has been from 54 to 62 lbs per bu. Protein has been around 12% to 14%. Yields have been from 30 to 60 bus per acre.

The Colorado Wheat Commission in its July 7 harvest update said combining was accelerating across the state. The largest wheat-producing county in Colorado is Kit Carson County. Harvesting there has been slow and steady, but the pace was picking up. Protein in the wheat harvested to date ranged from 12% to 16%, and test weights have been running between 55 and 60 lbs per bu. Combining in Washington County began around July 1. Average protein there was running around 13%, and test weights have been averaging around 60 lbs per bu.

Eastern Colorado has been very dry, and the Kit Carson and Washington Counties harvest results were expected to be typical for the region, i.e. test weights mostly below 60 lbs per bu but with plenty of high-protein supply.  

 The soft red winter wheat harvest was making excellent progress across much of the Central states. The USDA said the winter wheat harvest on July 5 was 86% completed in Missouri (66% a week earlier), 82% in Illinois (63%), 48% in Indiana (22%) and 51% in Ohio (1%). Combining in Michigan was just underway.

 Combining around Fostoria, Ohio, was nearly completed. Ohio farmers transported pre-sold new crop wheat to elevators and mills, and several even sold heavily across the scale.

Mill storage was filling up with some mills now having inventories and pipelines to sustain grind through August or even September.

The quality of the crop was said to be excellent. One miller said the Ohio crop was the best he has seen in years. While an early-May freeze may have reduced yields, it seemed not to have adversely affected quality.

A soft red winter wheat merchandiser agreed, saying the excellent quality seen in Ohio wheat also was typical in wheat harvested in most nearby states, including Illinois, Kentucky and Tennessee.

The latest US Wheat Associates weekly harvest summary issued July 3 reflected the good quality of the early harvest. As of that date, based on 58 of 300 intended samples, US Wheat said 2020 soft red winter wheat was averaging 60.2 lbs in test weight (57.9 lbs as the 2019 crop average, 57.9 lbs as the recent five-year average), 305 seconds in falling number (285 seconds, 304 seconds), 34.8 grams in thousand kernel weight (31.6 grams, 32 grams) and was grading No. 1 soft red winter (No. 3, No. 3).  

The favorable quality was not universal, though. Wheat in southern Virginia and northern North Carolina was pummeled by relentless late-season rains that delayed the harvest to the point where much of the crop sustained damage from sprouting, which significantly reduced falling number values. Mills in those areas may have to reach out to other regions to secure quality they require.