MT. OLIVE, Ill. — If the predictions of the 2023 Illinois Wheat Tour come anywhere close to the real yield at harvest time, Illinois will be breaking records this summer.
“One general observation across all the areas is they didn’t see many problems,” said Mark Schleusener, Illinois State Statistician for the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Services.
He has participated in the tour to estimate yields for the last six years.
He was part of the team starting at Mennel Milling Company in Mt. Olive, covering Macoupin, Montgomery, Madison and Bond counties, walking through the waving green fields of soft red winter wheat. The teams did careful head counts in 3-foot recording spaces and looked for fertility, disease and head size.
A tour starting at Siemer Milling Company in Teutopolis covered Effingham, Shelby, Fayette, Jasper, Clay, Coles and Richland counties. And a tour heading out from Wabash Valley FS Services covered the deep southeast counties of White, Hamilton, Gallatin and Wayne.
All gathered at the Belleville Research Center to share the results of the event organized by the Illinois Wheat Association.
Mark Miller, plant manager of Mennel Milling and leader for Schleusener’s team, said the estimated potential yield for the fields they visited were 70 and 100 bu./acre. In this area, 80 bu./acre is very good, he said.
On this year’s tour, the data collectors in 57 different fields in 20 counties predicted an average yield of 97.6 bu./acre.
“That would be a record breaker. Even 80 bu./acre average in the state would be the highest to date,” Miller said.
Hamilton County, in the deep southeast, has the highest projected yield at 143.27 bu./acre and Franklin County, one county west has the lowest projection at 71.83.
Illinois’ five-year wheat average since 2018 is 71.8 bu./acre. The USDA’s prediction is a 78 bu./acre average yield for this year, Schleusener said.
The high yield projection here is in contrast to the poor yields and whole fields lost in Oklahoma, Kansas and Texas due to drought. In those states, just 67% of the crop will be harvested, which is the lowest since 1917, Schleusener said.
The drought continues in those wheat-producing areas.
“It’s been ugly for a long time,” Schleusener said.
By harvest time, several factors could make Illinois’ actual yield lower — lack of rain to finish, disease developing and light head weight.
“Most believe we need moisture in order to get the potential we saw today,” Miller said after conversations with participants at the Belleville Research Center where everyone gathered after the field tour.
“The head count was large, but the size of the heads was small,” Schleusener said. That could also affect the final yields.
This is also the first year a new factor was added to the formula to calculate yield. Participants counted the average spikelet per head. This factor pushed the yield estimates higher, Miller said. The technique was added this year in hopes of being more accurate, as the group’s estimate was lower than the record-breaker actual yield last year.
In Miller’s group of counties, there was very little sign of disease. However, he said it was likely too early to see fusarium, commonly called head scab, and leaf diseases in the counties as far north as he was.
John Ernst, a farmer near Alhambra in Madison County, Illinois, who has been growing double-crop soybeans and wheat for a decade, said his wheat crop got off to a slow start but has looked better every week lately.
“As a system, wheat double- crop makes the most money two out of three years,” he said. During that third year, corn is the biggest money maker.
In southern Illinois, some members found some evidence head scab.
“But it is not bad at this time,” Miller said.
There was also freeze damage and leaf disease reported in some of the most southern states.
The next big look at wheat yield projections will be from the USDA NASS June 9 report. The service will begin collecting data on June 1, Schleusener said.