Wheat in Illinois, 2012

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Amid the trauma of ongoing drought and declining corn and soybean conditions in Illinois is some good news: the 2012 wheat yield came in higher than expected, with the July 1 yield estimate raised to 64 bushels per acre. That ties for third-highest yield on record for Illinois, and it is 5 bushels higher than the average over the last decade.

Along with good yields was excellent quality. Test weight values--an indirect measure of quality--were among the highest we have seen. Good wheat yields and high test weights both resulted from dry weather this spring. Dry weather limits disease, makes harvest possible without having grain get wet, and in general provides good conditions for wheat to fill grain.

One of the few things that might have kept yields from being even higher was the very early start to spring growth under high March temperatures followed by frost the second week of April. The frost did not cause a lot of visible injury, but the crop was in the boot (preheading) stage in many fields, and there was probably some injury to heads. The warm temperatures early might also have decreased tillering and head numbers some, and this might have decreased yield potential. Great filling conditions after the frost, however, helped kernels get larger and so minimized the effect of reduced kernel numbers.

The results of the wheat variety trials we conduct at six locations each year are available at vt.cropsci.illinois.edu/wheat.html. Yields by location, averaged over all entries, ranged from 61 bushels per acre at Dixon Springs to 100 at Perry (in Pike County in west-southwestern Illinois). Averaged over the three locations in the region, several varieties yielded more than 100 bushels per acre in northern Illinois, and several yielded more than 85 in the southern set of trials.

One of the few downsides for wheat in 2012 is the likely lack of success with double-cropping of soybean after wheat harvest. Given the very dry soils after harvest, many did not try to plant soybeans, and the soybeans that have been planted are doing poorly and in some cases have failed to germinate or have died after emergence. Income from double-cropping helps make wheat work for many producers in the southern half of Illinois, and a poor double-crop tends to discourage wheat production.

But as we have seen in some dry years before, wheat might be the highest-yielding crop for some producers in 2012, and with the ongoing struggles of the corn and soybean crops and good wheat yields, there might be more interest in planting wheat this fall. Even if corn or soybean crops fail or are harvested very early, we need to resist the temptation to get out and plant wheat earlier than the ideal time, which ranges from mid-September at the northern edge of Illinois to mid-October at the southern tip. In the meantime, we can use results from trials to choose good varieties to plant.

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