Pennsylvania farmers are harvesting what could be their biggest wheat crop in 45 years.
Tyler Heagy of Annville, a dairy farmer and custom harvester, said the fields he has seen have been holding enough moisture.
“The weather has been cooperative,” he said. “Fingers crossed it stays that way.”
Nearly 300,000 acres of winter wheat were planted in the fall. That’s up 15% from the previous year and is the most acreage planted in the state since 1976, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service.
Farmers took advantage of a recent string of warm and dry weather days, resulting in about 60% of the crop being harvested in the two weeks ending July 12.
In Lancaster County, farmers were halfway finished with their harvest by Independence Day. With the sunny weather and a nice, golden crop, it was hard not to get into the fields, said Jeff Graybill, an agronomy educator with Penn State Extension.
Dalton Gish, a custom harvester in Lebanon County, said he’ll spend a few more weeks operating the grain cart while following his dad, David, in a John Deere combine.
Gish started harvesting wheat after July Fourth and said he and his father finished 120 acres in two days. He said he hasn’t noticed a major difference from last year’s weather and yield, which ranged from 90-100 bushels per acre.
This year’s yields have been around 100 bushels per acre or better for farmers in the southeast region. One farmer in Lebanon County recorded an average of 130 bushels, which Graybill plans to send to the National Wheat Growers yield contest.
Fungal toxin levels have been below 2 parts per million, which is considered nonexistent.
“The yield is good. The price is good. The quality is good. It’s kind of a trifecta,” Graybill said.
The timing of the harvest has also been helpful for farmers because they have been able to take their wheat off early enough to plant soybeans. Graybill said many are capitalizing on this opportunity to make money by double-cropping.
Good wheat prices seem to have encouraged farmers to expand acreage.
Heagy thinks that many farmers, especially dairy farmers who have sold their milking herds, have moved into cash crop farming.
“You just see a lot less forages being harvested on dairies,” he said.
Graybill said that while the Midwest produces most of the hard wheat, used for bread, Pennsylvania’s wheat varieties mainly go to animal feed, with a small percentage for bakery products.
“We need wheat for cookies and such, so it doesn’t need to rise as much,” Graybill said. Farmers are also watching the price of straw, which tends to push up the price of wheat, Heagy said.
On July 9, the price for wheat closed at $6.08 a bushel in Chicago, according to CME Group. In Kempton, Pennsylvania, Albright’s Mill had wheat listed for $5.95 on its online grain board.