State wheat yield sets record; 'Best crop we ever had' on many farms

Many wheat growers believed this year’s crop had a lot of potential prior to harvest.

But the most recent state yield estimate released by USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service July 12 still caught some off guard as this year’s average in Illinois — 80 bushels per acre — blew past the 2017 record by 4 bushels.

The new state record yield also topped last year’s average by a whopping 12 bushels per acre.

“It was just an excellent wheat crop. On our farm, we had the best wheat, as a whole, we’ve ever had,” said Danny Rubin, president of the Illinois Wheat Association from Fayette County. “It was a challenging harvest, between the (rain) showers, but the quality held up and our test weight stayed above 58.”

Heavy rains and strong winds threatened wheat stands in parts of the state in recent weeks and caused some issues. But many farmers were able to get the crop out in time to avoid major losses.

“I was awfully nervous with the forecast after we started,” Rubin said. “We were pleased and relieved to finish harvest.”

Wheat harvest was 95% complete statewide as of July 12, slightly ahead of the average pace and 7 points ahead of last year.

“I think we’ll keep trending (yields) up slowly, but it will be hard to maintain this big of jump,” Rubin said of the record yield. “A lot of people had the best crop they’ve ever had.”

How did farmers produce such a sizable yield this year? Rubin described some of the key factors.

“I think the mild winter, followed by a somewhat normal spring, we had a little rain during flowering, and then the cool weather in May extended our grain fill period. I think those were all factors,” he said. “The genetics and farmers’ overall management of wheat is also better than in the past. More are aware using fungicide helps a lot.”

And it all added up to many farmers breaking 90 and even 100-plus bushels per acre.

“Numbers being talked about are topping out at 104 bushels with many 90s on the good ground and moving down to the 40s on sand,” Marshall Newhouse, FarmWeek CropWatcher from Boone County, said of wheat harvest results in his area.

Overall, USDA pegged winter wheat production at 52 million bushels in Illinois (up 47% from last year) and 1.36 billion bushels nationwide (up 4% from the June estimate) with a national average yield of 53.6 bushels per acre (up 2.7 bushels from 2020).

But spring wheat production is a different story as severe drought in the Northern Plains sapped output. USDA projected production of durum wheat of just 37.2 million bushels (down 46% from last year) with an average yield of just 25.8 bushels per acre.

“The spring wheat was the bullish leader (of USDA’s July crop production report due to tight supplies),” Brian Hoops, market analyst with Midwest Market Solutions, said during a teleconference hosted by the Minneapolis Grain Exchange. “Dry conditions definitely impacted yield potential.”

The plunge of spring wheat yields pulled the all wheat yield estimate to 45.8 bushels per acre nationwide, down 4.9 bushels from last month’s estimate.