Illinois wheat could be heads above previous crops

Illinois farmers are roughly a month away from harvesting what could be the largest wheat crop in 15 years.

USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) this month estimated winter wheat production in the state could total 61.6 million bushels, up a whopping 39% compared to last year.

If realized, it would be the largest wheat crop harvested in Illinois since 2008, when Prairie State farmers gleaned 73.6 million bushels off 1.15 million harvested acres, according to Mark Schleusener, state statistician with the NASS Illinois field office. The estimate comes on the heels of a mild winter, although an active spring weather track threw a little of everything (including snow, hail, freezing temperatures and wind) at the crop while also making for a challenging fertilizer and pesticide application season.

“Wheat has had everything applied,” said Kevin Raber, a FarmWeek CropWatcher from Wabash County. “All it needs now is favorable weather until harvest.”

This year’s average wheat yield is currently estimated at 78 bushels per acre statewide, which would be one shy of the record achieved in both 2021 and 2022.

The high yield along with a big boost in acres are the two keys to the large production estimate. USDA projects Illinois farmers planted 880,000 acres of winter wheat last fall and are on pace to harvest 790,000 acres this summer, up 41% from last year.

“Wheat is heading out,” Doug Uphoff, Shelby County CropWatcher, noted earlier this month. “Some looks better than others.”

And that’s certainly the case across the nation. USDA pegged U.S. winter wheat production at 1.13 billion bushels, up 2% from last year, due to an 8% jump in harvested acres. But it would still be the second-lowest since 1970.

The national average winter wheat yield, however, is projected to decline 2.3 bushels from last year to 44.7 bushels per acre, the lowest since 2015, due to challenging conditions in some areas, particularly west of the Mississippi River. About 48% of winter wheat production was within an area experiencing drought through the first week of May, according to the USDA weekly Ag in Drought report.

Winter wheat abandonment subsequently is high nationwide this year. The harvested-to-planted ratio, 67.4%, would be the second-lowest on record, according to NASS.IWA to host wheat tour, yield contest

Members of the Illinois Wheat Association (IWA) will scout the crop for yield potential and any pest or disease issues May 23 as part of the Southern Illinois Wheat Tour.

The annual event, previously featured in FarmWeek, will be highlighted by a tour of the wheat research plots at the Southern Illinois University Belleville Research Center.

IWA is also currently accepting entries for its annual Illinois Wheat Yield Contest.

Entries are $50 and open to all IWA members. Mail-in entries must be postmarked by June 4.

Visit the IWA website,, for more information about the wheat tour or yield contest.