By Matt Reese, Joel Penhorwood and Dusty Sonnenberg
Wheat growers in many parts of the state reported high yields and good quality in 2023.
In an Ohio Ag Net Cab Cam video this year from mid-July, Doug Dawson from Delaware County talked about his wheat crop as yield monitor numbers bounced back and forth between 140 and 150 bushels per acre. His wheat harvest got off to a slow start when Dawson got rained out in his first couple attempts, but it worked out in the end.
“The moisture was higher than we wanted it to be at 16%, 18% and one field was actually 21% and we thought, ‘Are we ever going get done this year?’ with the moisture we’ve had recently,” Dawson said. “But all in all, it’s been a good year. I’ve heard a lot of guys say it’s the best wheat they’ve ever harvested. I’d have to say the field I’m sitting in is obviously the best field I’ve ever harvested in 40 years. I was really leery early on when it got dry there in May and the early part of June. The heads looked good but I thought, ‘Boy if we don’t get any moisture, it is not going to fill out.’ I started getting my hopes up for a better crop when we got those rains starting there right in the prime berry filling part of the season. The heads are long and I still didn’t expect what I was going to see on the yield monitor. I didn’t think we would top two years ago, but we did by about five or six bushels.”
Roy Klopfenstein also saw best-ever wheat yields in Paulding County.
“You know with the four or five weeks of dry weather — basically from the time we put on the fungicide, we had virtually no rain — expectations were not all that high for wheat. I’ve heard from 40 to 80 where people were hoping, but we had a good stand and it overwintered well so the potential was there,” he said in a wheat harvest Cab Cam from July 12. “We have some yields we haven’t seen before.”
There were many similar reports statewide.
“I’ve been hearing exactly the same thing from every farmer I’ve talked to this year and our performance trials for wheat reflect those observations from farmers as well,” said Laura Lindsey, Ohio State University Extension small grains specialist. “Our Wheat Performance Test evaluates several different varieties of wheat. Our highest yield this year was 151 bushels per acre and that was out of Darke County. The average yield there was 125 bushels, which is just phenomenal.”
This year’s Wheat Performance Test report includes 74 winter wheat varieties and 16 brands grown in five counties (Wood, Wayne, Darke, Union, and Pickaway). In fall 2022, wheat for the trails was planted at four out of five locations within 14 days of the fly-free date. Grain yield averaged between 83.1 and 125.6 bushels per acre across the five locations. The strong yields and good wheat quality were not necessarily expected after some challenges last fall and the extremely dry weather this spring.
“Some of the potential issues started this fall with dry soils. Even though some of our planting dates were good, it took a while for the wheat to come up. Overall, I don’t think there were a whole lot of problems this winter. Sometimes in the spring we see things warm up and then cool off and there is spring damage. I didn’t really hear reports of that this year so even though things were maybe a little bit slow to emerge in the fall, overall things went into winter OK,” Lindsey said. “I think Mother Nature gave us a boost with these really high yields this year. When we have a long grain fill period, we tend to see higher yields and I think the weather conditions this year really helped us in terms of that that longer grain fill. I think the dry conditions this spring helped overall in terms of lower disease. We did have dry conditions, but it was mostly in the top two to three inches of topsoil. So, when you plant corn and soybeans into those conditions, it was really detrimental because it was dry. But wheat has a really robust root system, so if you dug a few inches into the soil, there was adequate subsoil moisture. Even though it was dry, I don’t think it really affected wheat. Coupled with the cooler temperatures this spring, I think there were a lot of benefits there for the wheat.”
Increasing wheat yields is also the product of increased on-farm management.
“Certainly, higher levels of management help — applying nitrogen at the right time and at the right rate, applying a fungicide if you need it based on good IPM practices — those are all really important to help maximize yield,” Lindsey said. “There was the concern we had with the rains right before harvest, but I think farmers were really on top of harvest this year. In some cases, wheat was harvested at a slightly higher moisture than what we would normally see, but it was a race against time this year. Test weights looked really good this year. We do vomitoxin testing too and they rated it very quickly this year because there wasn’t much.”
While dry conditions have persisted in some areas of Ohio, much of the state has been getting some timely rains following wheat harvest to help with double-crop soybean planting.
“The farmers I’ve talked to are double-cropping this year, but it might have been a little bit more challenging because we know planting soybeans early is important. Wheat harvest was just a tick later this year than normal,” Lindsey said. “I like to use July 10 — it’s my birthday — as a rough guideline so it’s really arbitrary, but I think double-crops maybe went in a slightly later than usual. In terms of double-crops, having adequate soil moisture can be a limitation, but at least where I’m at here in central Ohio, we’ve had good soil moisture.”
With a solid wheat harvest in the books for 2023, strong prices and increasing popularity of planting double-crop beans, wheat is getting some extra attention for inclusion in Ohio crop rotations for 2024.