WICHITA, Kansas — Kansas farmers wrapping up this year's winter wheat harvest probably don't need another government report to tell them this isn't a good year, but the forecast released Friday by the Agriculture Department paints an even heavier toll from a widespread drought than previously thought.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service reduced its estimate of the Kansas wheat crop to 235.2 million bushels, which would be the smallest wheat crop in Kansas since 1989. Last month, it estimated the Kansas harvest at 243.6 million bushels.
"Pretty much everything that could go wrong with the crop did go wrong this year," said Marsha Boswell, spokesman for the industry group Kansas Wheat. The 26 percent decrease expected in wheat production this year compared to a year ago is a "huge decrease," she said.
This year's crop in Kansas had endured a persistent drought since it was planted last fall. Some places in the state also had severe hail damage, other fields suffered from freeze damage in the fall, and others suffered late freezes in early spring, Boswell said. Then, when the crop made it through all that and it was time to harvest, it started raining.
All that rain made it difficult for farmers to get into the fields to cut the wheat, much of which was already short because of the drought. The rain at harvest spurred the weeds to grow, making them taller than the wheat in some fields. That forced many growers to spray fields to kill the weeds before they could cut the wheat, she said. Farmers who sprayed their fields then had to wait 10 days to two weeks, depending on the chemical they used, before they could harvest their crop.
Kansas growers are forecast to harvest the wheat from 8.4 million acres, about 90 percent of the acres they seeded last fall, the statistics agency reported. Kansas farmers abandoned about 900,000 planted wheat acres across the state this year.
Average yields in Kansas were forecast at 28 bushels an acre, down 10 bushels per acre when compared to the last year — the lowest average yield reported since 1995, the agency said.
Nationwide, it estimated the nation will harvest 1.37 billion bushels of wheat, down 11 percent from a year ago based on July 1 conditions. Average yields nationally are 42.2 bushels per acre. About 32.4 million acres of wheat are being harvested across the nation.
Production of hard red winter wheat, the type most commonly grown in Kansas, was forecast at 703 million bushels nationwide. That is down 2 percent from last month's estimate.