WYO-BRASKA – The winter wheat harvest that started July Fourth weekend is in full swing, and according to Tyson Narjes, a grower and District 2 Representative on the Nebraska Wheat Board, the panhandle is seeing crops that are “average at best.”
“The spring was pretty tough on a lot of these wheat acres and we’re starting to see a lot of those results,” Narjes said.
Narjes said he remembers seeing 10 inches of rain between May and June of 2019, an abnormally wet year, while this year brought between just an inch and a half and three inches. The dry spell, among other factors, are reflected in the numbers thus far.
According to the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, Nebraska’s winter wheat production is forecast at 40.8 million bushels, down 26% from last year. The average yield is forecast at 48 bushels per acre, down nine bushels from 2019.
Narjes said test weights are in the low 60s range, and protein levels are average, anywhere between 10-14.
Western Nebraska Dryland Cropping Systems Specialist, Cody Creech, Ph.D., said he attributes the drop in winter wheat production from last year to the dry weather as well as freezes throughout the spring. Harvests in the northern and southern panhandles started at roughly the same time, Creech said, which is something “we haven’t seen in the past.” The Nebraska harvest typically starts from the southern borders with Kansas and Colorado and slowly moves north.
“Because of the freezes we’ve had this spring and the dry weather we’ve had in areas, the maturity of the wheat’s really variable now,” Creech said.
Yet another damaging factor in this year’s winter wheat harvest is the sawfly, a grass-feeding insect that first emerged 10 years ago, is “extremely bad this year,” according to Narjes. He said he attributes their presence to hot dry winds in the area.
“We’re going to see some pretty widespread losses due to sawfly,” Narjes said.
The 2020 winter wheat harvest has not entirely avoided effects of the novel coronavirus pandemic, though it hasn’t been affected as much as other crops, according to Narjes.
“When you look at the farming community and this pandemic that’s changed most of our lives, it hasn’t affected us a whole lot on our day-to-day operations, but in terms of prices we’re seeing a little bit of a hit,” Narjes said. “I don’t know if we’ve seen the effects on wheat like we have in the other markets, like corn or soybeans.”
For custom wheat cutters who rely on help from workers in the H-2A program, which allows temporary lawful admission for foreign agricultural workers who typically come from all over the world, labor shortages are also an issue, Narjes said.
“Their laborers couldn’t come, they weren’t allowed in, they were quarantined if they were here, and it’s just been a mess for them to keep their machinery running,” Narjes said.
According to Creech, this coronavirus-induced labor shortage has been more impactful in other industries. Still, farmers can expect a less fruitful harvest than last year.
“The big broad picture is that the harvest is going to be down in terms of total bushels and production,” Narjes said.