By DANIEL GRANT
Illinois farmers boosted wheat plantings by 210,000 acres for the 2023 crop compared to 2022.
And did it ever pay off.
Prairie State farmers harvested 65.5 million bushels of wheat this summer, up a whopping 48% compared to the previous year, with a record yield of 84 bushels per acre.
It made Illinois the No. 6 wheat-producing state in the nation for the year, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office.
So what will farmers do this fall for an encore?
Seed industry representatives who attended the Illinois Wheat Association’s (IWA) Summer Forum in Sparta (Randolph County) on Aug. 23 foresee another big year ahead for the cereal crop.
“The outlook for wheat is incredible,” said Landon Eade, DynaGro Seed manager for southern Illinois. “The last two years growers had with wheat have been exceptional, and with double-crop beans it’s been a win-win. They’re looking to build off that.”
Illinois farmers planted 860,000 acres of wheat last fall compared to 650,000 the previous year. They harvested 780,000 of those acres this summer, up 39% from 2022.
“I think we’ll probably be a tick up on wheat acres (this fall, weather permitting). The world needs it,” Eade said. “Worst case, I see acres remaining flat.”
Matt Wehmeyer, president of AgriMAXX Wheat Seed and IWA board member in Mascoutah, also looks for farmers to at least maintain the spike in wheat plantings this fall, if there’s a good window for fieldwork.
“A lot of farmers increased acres last year and had tremendous success,” he said. “They’ll look to repeat that. A lot are saying they’re looking to do similar acres this year.”
Eli Gravert, station manager for Grow Pro Genetics in Hamel, said his company continues to expand its wheat product line in Illinois.
“We’ve got a strong portfolio now, and it will only get better,” he said as varieties are typically selected for yield, test weight and disease tolerance.
Gravert’s main concern for the year ahead is a reduction in wheat and other commodity prices.
“It was a great year to be growing wheat. The weather really showed how resilient wheat is,” he said of the past season. “Price increases were a big reason for the acreage increase (last fall). Now that it’s leveled off, it’s hard to say how much (wheat) farmers will plant (this fall).”
Regardless of the acreage total, Wehmeyer is confident farmers will be able keep pushing yields to new levels. AgriMAXX has 23 elite, locally adopted varieties it markets in 26 states, according to the company’s website. And one of its varieties recently reached 165.3 bushels per acre.
“The new genetics are tremendous,” Wehmeyer said. “They bring a new level of yield potential we haven’t seen the last four to five years.
“When I look at all the growers in our 150-, 125- and 100-bushel clubs (for field averages), it’s all new varieties.”
Another key change in wheat varieties in recent years is a focus on earlier maturity.
“The early varieties on wheat are performing well,” said Ryan Hasty, western area agronomy manager for South Central FS. “They come off early and the double-crop (beans) go in way earlier than they did 10 years ago.”
And double-crop bean production has responded as a result, although weather challenges could take a bite out of yields this year.
“Twenty years ago, a lot of double-crop yields were around 25 to 30 (bushels per acre),” Hasty said. “Now, it’s not uncommon to get 50 bushels and some even in the 60s.”
This story was distributed through a cooperative project between Illinois Farm Bureau and the Illinois Press Association. For more food and farming news, visit FarmWeekNow.com.