Before the rain Thursday night, wheat harvest was running full throttle and overall a much better crop than was predicted. The forecast indicates everyone should be back in the field soon if they aren’t already (depending on the rainfall received). A few were commenting their crop would have been better except for late season disease pressure. What happened? Several things.
• The wheat did look as bad as it seemed prior to May due to the fall and winter growing conditions. However, an extremely wet May, wet enough for most areas to make it into the top five rainiest category and remove the whole state from drought listing, helped. The wheat overall flowered a bit later than the norm and was able to take advantage of this precipitation. The weather was not only wet but overall cool into mid-June. This allowed wheat to flower, pollinate, set seed, and fill seed without being cut off by heat. In English it matured normally instead of dying prematurely. And the weather also allowed for some tillers that normally wouldn’t have headed or developed seed to go ahead and produce grain.
• Reports state that rainfall on a ripe wheat crop decreases quality. Why? The short answer is that the wheat absorbs water and then dries out. This can remove nutrients and a bit of content so the seed weighs less and can shrivel. Under the right conditions, wheat can even sprout in the head. Rainfall and storms can also cause lodging (plants falling over) especially if accompanied with wind and/or hail.
• Reports list yield in bushels per acre and most understand that. They also speak of test weight with good being 60 pounds or greater and 57 or 58 pound as low. What does that mean? Test weights refer to how much a bushel of wheat weighs. To imagine this think of a bushel basket full of wheat, in the old days eight gallons, and if put on a scale a standard, normal bushel of wheat should weigh 60 pounds. Higher test weights are great, however, as they fall below 60 it is an indication of decreasing quality. Rain on mature wheat for the reasons cited above loses test weight. An 800 bushel volume of wheat at a 60 pound test weight weighs 48,000 pounds. That same volume at a 58 pound test weight weighs 46,400 pounds.
• Finally you hear protein concerns. We predominantly grow hard winter wheat primarily used for bread. Protein factors into what makes good flour for these products as more protein produces more gluten. Millers prefer hard wheat at around 12 percent but can blend wheat with lower protein with higher protein wheat and be okay.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.