Local wheat harvest is touch and go

Gateway FS employees Danny Huelsman and Dave Reichert manage the offloading of a truck of harvested wheat last week at the Waterloo elevator. The load, from the farm of Arnold Matzenbacher, was delivered to the elevator by Ron Braun. (Alan Dooley photo)

The harvest of wheat has expanded rapidly across Monroe County, with mixed results and lower prices for farmers.

Last week, prices were $4.50 per bushel, down from the $6 per bushel range reported last year.
Farmers are also seeing a higher presence of the disease called fusarium head blight, or scab disease, cutting into prices. And if it is bad enough, some wheat is even being rejected by buyers.

Each truck load is tested at elevators to check for presence of the disease, with a cut-off of four parts per million.

This is because wheat with this disease cannot be fed to animals that are producing milk, and its intake must be limited in any animals. The scab disease fungus produces a toxin, called vomitoxin, which sickens animals if they eat very much of it. It is also not usable for human consumption.

The high humidity is providing an ideal climate for the head blight to develop.

According to Gateway FS crop specialist Matt Keller, eastern Illinois counties were the focus of this problem last year. But the rain this spring has seen this issue move west, including into Monroe County.

Keller said that farmers may set combines to blow out lighter kernels – blighted kernels are usually lighter in weight – but when they do, they also may lose a larger percentage of otherwise good kernels.

Recent repeated rain, and drying-out episodes, have also caused some ripe wheat kernels to expand when they get wet. They do not shrink when they dry, and thus, wheat can suffer a loss of what is called test weight – a measure of pounds per bushel. This is because there are simply fewer larger kernels in a bushel. Muddy areas in fields are also more difficult to combine.

Other factors that can influence the disease’s infection rate include whether a field of wheat has been sown after beans or corn were harvested.  Corn may harbor a related fungus that produces what is called alphatoxin.  Corn and wheat are susceptible to funguses because both are what are termed “grass crops.”

When and how a fungicide is applied also has a strong influence.

While wheat prices are currently quite low, rain elsewhere in the Midwest is tending to start to drive prices up. But farmers who don’t have access to sufficient storage are forced to take wheat to market as they harvest it, versus waiting for higher returns.

Beans planted recently are emerging, with some looking quite good where drainage and soil has been favorable. Corn that was planted early enough this spring also seems to be doing quite well, with some already beginning to tassel at the top of plants.

The Republic-Times newspaper will continue to follow and report on farming results across our coverage area.

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