BELLEVILLE — Despite weather and disease pressure, the Illinois wheat crop apparently hasn’t taken a big hit this season.
Preliminary yield estimates, however, indicate growers may not reach the record yield of 2016.
Several groups of agronomists, educators and farmers traveled on May 23 throughout Southern Illinois, where the majority of the state’s wheat is grown, for an annual crop tour organized by the Illinois Wheat Association.
One common theme among participants is that increased management appears to be paying off. One group stopping at fields in six counties saw evidence of that.
“We did not get into a bad field of wheat,” said Dale Wehmeyer, who owns a seed company based in Mascoutah. “Every field we got into had tracks where they had sprayed. It was quite evident that they were going to experience a good yield.”
A number of pest issues — many weather-related — were observed on the tour.
“Just about every field had some barley yellow dwarf in it,” said Dave Devore of Siemer Milling in Teutopolis. “The yield probably has been knocked off because of that.”
Using a formula in which tiller counts and other measures are used to come up with yield projections, organizers estimated an average yield of 61.1 bushels per acre. That is well below the actual yield average of the 2016 season, when growers set a state record with a 74-bushel average.
Last year’s tour estimate of 63.5 bushels greatly under-shot the mark, so organizers shifted to a weighted estimate this year that takes into account areas of high and low production.
Consequently, more emphasis is placed on estimates from big wheat-producing counties such as Washington and St. Clair.
Mark Krausz, who sampled fields in Perry, Washington and Clinton counties, also observed benefits of intensive management.
“In Clinton County, most diseases we saw were in fields not highly managed,” he said. “There was a definite difference. If you grow wheat, you have to do a little work. We saw benefits of that.”
He also saw evidence of major rodent activity in some fields.
“There was an unbelievable amount of vole damage,” Krausz said. “In big spots, the wheat was just gone. There were holes there and the crop is devastated. Some people are going to be very disappointed.”
Don Duvall saw evidence in White County of damage from the heavy rainfall that inundated farms in late April and early May. Some areas received as much as 16 inches of rainfall in a week or less.
“I did see quite a bit where it looked like the crop had run out of nutrients, probably because of the rains,” he said. “That caused a lot of problems. One day was 7 inches. When you get that much water, you get ponding.”
Like many others on the tour, crop consultant Larry Cooper found a number of instances of barley yellow dwarf damage, a viral disease transmitted by aphids.
“There was a fair amount of flag diseases. Barley yellow dwarf was all over the board,” Cooper said.
“It was such a mild winter, there were plenty of opportunities for aphids. Some of these fields had fungicides applied late, but much of this was probably in the fall.”
University of Illinois crop specialist Emerson Nafziger is optimistic about the wheat crop despite the problems.
“We’re a little nervous when it rains this much about wheat. This part of Illinois has been socked pretty hard,” he said. “But the wheat crop has a pretty good appearance right now.”
Many at the tour wrap-up expressed optimism about the recovery of wheat during its final growth stage.
“We need some good, dry weather to make sure the crop can get to where it needs to be,” said Mark Miller of Mount Olive-based Mennel Milling.
Nafziger added, “Wheat has the remarkable ability to put on yield in a very short period of time. At its maximum, wheat can add 6 or 7 bushels of yield per acre per day, and maybe even more than that. … With some sunshine, we could see good yields.”