An unusual winter leads to the potential for an unusually early wheat harvest in 2017.

With the mild, almost spring-like weather in January and February, the winter wheat crop is well ahead of its normal pace in development. Many expect some harvest activity early June. Others think that the harvest will not kick in to full swing until closer to mid-June. Regardless, in southern Illinois a lot of activity will be going on at once including spraying, soybean planting and side-dressing corn at the same time as harvesting wheat – a quadruple whammy!

The great unknown right now is the yield potential and quality of the wheat crop. Many think that we have the potential for great yields this year because of all the early development. Others think freezing temperatures during March may cause yield loss. Many are concerned about head scab and other diseases due to the heavy rainfall during flowering and the inability to apply fungicides in a timely manner due to the early May rains.

With the busy spring season and all the uncertainty about yield and quality, one sure strategy to help save quality and perhaps spread out the workload is to harvest early ─ if you can handle and dry the crop. Early harvest of wheat, when moisture is at 18 to 22 percent, has shown to help protect test weight. It also allows for in-bin drying, which helps with other quality issues as well. And early harvest allows for more timely planting of double-crop soybeans behind the wheat, which means more bushels of beans per acre.

If you don’t have the ability to store or dry wheat on the farm, contact your elevator or miller. Some have programs to take early harvested, high-moisture wheat. In many cases, they want the wheat at a higher moisture (20 to 22 percent) so that they can dry and condition it themselves and save quality and test weight. Their desire for a higher quality wheat to mill with is also a win for the producer. These companies have programs on discounts and premiums to help offset the moisture content of the wheat often at a much lower discount or cost than on-farm drying. One thing to be aware of when it comes to a miller is to see that your wheat is on the list of varieties they desire for milling.

One miller in southern Illinois that is offering an early harvest program is Siemer Milling in Teutopolis, Illinois. This company has a great program that affords you the chance to harvest at high moisture and improve the profitability of your wheat enterprises.

As wheat harvest grows closer, talk to your elevator or miller about an early harvest program. Monitor crop condition and target fields for early harvest. And if you do harvest at high moisture, get those planters ready to double-crop into green and wet straw.

Kelly Robertson is a Certified Professional Agronomist and a Certified Crop Adviser. He has a Masters of Science (MS) in Plant and Soil Science and has spent 25 years as a soil fertility agronomist and precision agriculture consultant in southern Illinois while also spending 4 years as a Farm/Agronomy Manager and GIS Coordinator for a large farm in southeastern Illinois.  

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About the Author: Kelly Robertson

Kelly Robertson has been a soil fertility agronomist and precision agriculture consultant since 1989 and also spends time in farm/agronomy management roles for farms in Southern Illinois. In 2012, Kelly and his wife Lori started Precision Crop Services in Benton where they provide agronomic services for their customers including soil testing, crop scouting, data analysis, GPS/GIS services including variable rate seeding and fertility recommendations as well as farm and agronomy management for their customers. He is a Certified Professional Agronomist, Certified Crop Advisor, Certified 4R Nutrient Management Specialist, 2015 Illinois Soybean Association Double-Crop Specialist, 2016 Illinois CCA of the Year and the 2021 Illinois Soybean Assoc. Dave Rahe Excellence in Soils Consulting Award winner.