BELLEVILLE, Ill. — With unprecedented rainfall this spring, southern Illinois wheat farmers and wheat experts say it’s too early to know how the state’s wheat crop will fare.
Typically, the annual winter wheat field tour at Southern Illinois University’s Belleville Research Center in St. Clair County is an opportunity for the state’s wheat industry to size up prospects of the upcoming crop.
That’s not so clear this year.
The state wheat crop is running a week to 10 days behind normal, no thanks to the high and frequent rainfall.
Because the crop is late, field checks made during the annual wheat tours were as not as telling. Some at the meeting also wondered if the field count methodology is due for an update help with estimate accuracy.
Regardless, four regional field checks were completed, and it’s estimated that the average yield per acre will be 64.5 bushels. That compares to 66 bushels in 2018 and 76 in 2017.
Here’s what was found during the field checks:
Monroe, St. Clair and Randolph counties — Very little headscab was detected and head sizes were “relatively average” with 14 to16 spikes and no army worm damage. Numerous drowned out areas were spotted in fields that were not well drained.
Macoupin, Madison, Montgomery and St. Clair counties — With normal to “pretty good” head counts, the head sizes were below normal. Leaf diseases were fairly common, but not severe while head diseases were rarer. Only one field had a problem with army worms.
“There’s not very much lodging. I don’t think the wheat is robust enough” observed farmer John Ernst. “I think there are more low spots and drowned out spots that will be dead in the weeks to come. They’ll probably register as zero on your combine. That will definitely hurt yields in our area. This was not the year to plant wheat on flat, black soil.”
Washington and Perry counties — With similar results, grower Dean Campbell commented that “headscab seems to be very low this year. We were in one field that was confirmed that it had not been sprayed and there was some headscab showing up. I think it depends a lot on the varieties whether it’s showing up or not.”
He said that drowned out areas may have bigger yield impacts.
“Just like when we were in school and you skip the quizzes, it’s hard to make up with a lot of ‘A’s somewhere else,” Campbell said. “I’m thinking we’ll see the top yields in spots with triple digits possibly, but we won’t see field averages that way.”
Effingham, Clay, Richland and Marion counties — This group did not see much disease on flag leaves and found clean heads.
“Wheat has a tendency to catch up with itself, so we’ll see what happens here in the next 10 days. We will be back out in the fields in the next 10 days or so and see what else has developed. I think we still have a chance we could see disease impact on that flagleaf with as wet as it,” observed Dave Devore of Seimer Milling Co.
Tire tracks were noticed in every field and Devore complemented those farmers for good care, adding that tiller counts and head size were average and few drowned out areas.
“If we can dodge the bullet with disease in the next 10 days, then harvest will be the trick. If it continues raining after maturity then that’s another problem,” Devore said. “Right now, so far so good.
Questions arose at the meeting about the accuracy of the field day’s estimates and whether any improvements to the methodology are needed.
“We tend to look to the university guys for any changes,” Illinois Wheat Association president Danny Rubin commented.
“Some years we’re right on, some years we’re 6 or 7 bushels off — it depends on what the state average is and the head size. I think that’s the biggest thing that we don’t take into consideration. We’re just counting tillers. Right now that’s all we know to do. If anyone has any other idea, we certainly are open to it,” he said.
Mark Schleusener, Illinois state statistician for the National Agricultural Statistics Service, also believes head size is key to an estimate. He works with the NASS St. Louis laboratory on his field clippings.
“I’d count spikelets and put that into the calculation and see what that does for you. After three or four years, you’ll know if it works,” he offered.
Schleusener also asked if conducting the field counts on or around June 1 is the best timing for an estimate.
“We don’t do all that well on June 1 either because it’s early and Mother Nature has more to say. Even with an indication of the head size, early head size is a helpful thing, but it’s not fully predictive around June 1,” he said.
Head Scab Research
Also at the meeting was Steve Yale, technology director the National Association of Wheat Growers, to encourage growers to contact representatives on the House Agriculture Committee about fusarium head blight research funding.
“Wheat research is highly, highly dependent on public funding,” he said. “Fusarium head blight is everywhere. It’s the only appropriation in the farm bill that we watch. We’ve received $10 million in past, and this year got up to $15 million. We wouldn’t be able to do that unless we’re calling on members of Congress to let them we’ve got a problem with scab.”
He encouraged everyone to contact these House Ag Committee members to tell them about the need for the research funding: Cheri Bustos of East Moline, Rodney Davis of Taylorville and Mike Bost of Murphysboro.