BELLEVILLE, Ill. — Like a boxer ducking at just the right time when his opponent throws a few jabs, the Illinois wheat crop has avoided potential weather-related disaster over the past two years.

A severe drought in 2012 that baked the corn and soybean crops and persistent rains earlier this year that delayed planting of corn and beans haven’t spelled trouble for wheat.

“We really got lucky this year,” said University of Illinois Extension crop production specialist Emerson Nafziger, who discussed the wheat crop at an annual Southern Illinois University field day here.

Because many farmers were forced to abandon corn crops due to the severe drought last fall, much more wheat than normal followed corn and was put into the ground well before the so-called fly-free date of early October.

“We planted some of our wheat way earlier than we typically do. And we got away with that,” Nafziger said. “And another bullet we dodged with the crop in southern Illinois is it was able to get its flowering in between deluges of rain, and we didn’t get much head scab.

“Normally, if you tell me that you had 30 inches of rain here from April through June at Belleville, I’d say, ‘There goes that wheat crop. It’s not going to yield anything.’ And it averaged 82 (bushels per acre) in our variety trial which just got harvested.

“We always say wet springs can be OK for corn and soybeans if you get them planted on time, but they are death on wheat. And that sure didn’t happen this year. It’s all a little bit complicated with the fall we had. The wheat went into dormancy just OK. It stayed cool. We didn’t get the warm-ups like we usually do.

“We’ve seen this crop deteriorate before, from being the best looking crop to the worst crop. But that didn’t happen this year.”

The statewide yield estimate is about 65 bushels per acre. According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 88 percent of wheat in Illinois was harvested as of July 14. That compares to 100 percent last year and a five-year average of 92 percent.

A number of fields in southern Illinois yielded more than 100 bushels an acre, a rare accomplishment.

“We’ve seen that sometimes before, but it’s more often in central and northern Illinois, where we don’t grow much wheat,” Nafziger said. “We’ve had 100-plus bushels several times in the state, but not very often in the far southern part of the state. This year that’s going to be different.”

A university variety trial in Belleville that included 69 varieties yielded an average of 81.9 bushels per acre this season.

In fields across the state, there didn’t appear to be much penalty for those planting wheat after corn, according to Nafziger.

“There are tradeoffs,” he said. “We knew there was a lot (of nitrogen after the corn crop) there and were finding some pretty high numbers of nitrates there, both fertilizer and organic matter. We had probably enough nitrogen in many of these fields to grow the whole wheat crop.

“Well, it rained in the spring, and a lot of guys went back and put full rates on this spring. Some of the wheat lodged pretty badly. In general, the wheat was well supplied with nitrogen.

“Most of our varieties are bred to stand pretty well. We can get enough nitrogen on to maximize the yield without having lodging in our wheat crop. This last year, one of the reports I had in southern end of Illinois was that wheat that was standing yielded about 115, and the wheat that was flat yielded only about 100. Wheat crop failure! So it didn’t hurt it very much this year.”