Record wheat streak ends, but 2018 crop strong

Erratic temperatures cut yields in bushels per acre, but prices remain on the upswing

An Illinois wheat farmer harvests the crop in Gallatin County. (Wikimedia Commons)

An Illinois wheat farmer harvests the crop in Gallatin County. (Wikimedia Commons)

By Ted Cox

The wheat streak of record yields in bushels per acre ended last year, but Illinois nonetheless produced a strong crop.

According to the Illinois Wheat Association, Illinois produced 66 bushels an acre of wheat last year, down 10 bushels an acre from the record of 76 set in 2017, which topped the record 74 set the year before.

John Ernst, a wheat farmer in Alhambra in Madison County who also serves as association president, told the RFD Radio Network that he blamed erratic temperatures that went abruptly from cold to hot toward the end of last year’s growing season for winter wheat.

“The wheat crop had an extremely hard go last year,” Ernst said. “Once it got planted in the fall, it turned cold and stayed cold through March and April. Then we got above-normal heat in May and June.”

According to the Illinois State Water Survey, the statewide average temperature was 44.7 last April, the second-coldest April on record, but them jumped to 70.6 in May, the warmest May ever recorded.

“The crop was behind, then we sped it up through jointing, flowering, and grain fill,” Ernst added. “Any time you speed up a crop through grain fill, top yields are hard to come by.”

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin issued warnings to leading state agricultural agencies last month in the wake of a dire new report on climate change issued by the federal government, released over the Thanksgiving weekend by the Trump administration in an attempt to mute its findings.

Nevertheless, the state wheat association emphasized that 29 counties topped 70 bushels an acre in last year’s crop.

According to the association, most of the Illinois crop comes the southern part of the state, from Springfield south. There, several counties slipped below 70 and even 60 bushels an acre. Clark, Cumberland, Shelby, Sangamon, Morgan, Clinton, Washington, Randolph, and Pulaski counties remained above the 70 mark.

The biggest yields per acre actually came from counties to the north: DeKalb and Knox, both of which topped 80 bushels an acre.

Total wheat production statewide increased, however, to 37 million bushels. Illinois farmers planted 600,000 acres and harvested 560,000 acres of wheat last summer, up 19 percent from 2017, even if bushels per acre were down.

After a couple years of declines, wheat prices have actually been on a persistent rise over the last few years. Wheat prices have not suffered from President Trump’s trade war the way soybeans and pork prices have.

Ted Cox