RICHMOND, Va. — About 20 grain buyers, mill representatives and Virginia Cooperative Extension staff inspected the quality of Virginia-grown wheat May 30 during an annual spring tour.
“This event affords an opportunity to assess this year’s crop just prior to harvest and gather yield and quality information — something millers will use when planning their upcoming purchases,” said Robert Harper, Virginia Farm Bureau Federation grain manager. “It also gives us an opportunity to showcase some of Virginia’s premier wheat growers.”
This is the fourth year Virginia fields have been included in the mid-Atlantic tour. Participants examined wheat on 18 farms in 10 counties in the northern piedmont, Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula to take sample test weights, estimate yields and check for signs of disease.
Harper said they were “pleasantly surprised to find a crop that looks to be in line, from a yield perspective, with what Virginia normally grows.” He described the crop as “a little better than average, which is a lot to be thankful for in a year that was full of weather challenges.”
Wet conditions late last fall delayed wheat planting on many farms, and rainfall earlier this year made it difficult to apply crop nutrients and protectants in a timely manner.
Harper noted that excessive rainfall appears to have negated some nitrogen applications, which growers make according to their farms’ nutrient management plans. It’s likely, he concluded, that heavy rains caused the nitrogen to leech down into the soil profile beyond where the wheat could get the full benefit.
On a positive note, he continued, fungicide applications appear to have been well-timed. “We saw very little disease pressure on May 30,” which could mean more milling-grade wheat will be harvested.
Potential yield on the tour’s northern piedmont and Northern Neck farms averaged 65 bushels per acre.
Most wheat grown in Virginia is the soft red winter variety, which is used in flour for bread, pastries, cakes and crackers. Winter wheat grown in the state typically is planted in October or November and harvested in late May through June.
Statewide, Virginia farmers expect to harvest 7.13 million bushels of winter wheat this year, according to the Virginia field office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service. That forecast represents a 23% decrease when compared to the 2018 harvest. Yields, however, are forecast up slightly — 62 bushels per acre, compared to 60 bushels in 2018.
Wheat growers seeded 180,000 acres last fall; they predict 115,000 acres will be harvested for grain, while the other 65,000 were planted as a cover crop or will be cut for silage or hay.
The state’s top counties for wheat production in 2018 were Northampton, Caroline, Accomack, King William and Westmoreland. The counties with the best bushels-per-acre yields were Accomack, Middlesex, Northampton, Hanover and King William.