On Friday, July 14, U.S. Wheat Associates released its weekly harvest report for the nationwide Winter Wheat crop.
With weather a significant factor for the state of the national crop, the report notes that triple-digit temperatures and dry heat have stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Midwest at a time that farmers are completing the Hard Red Wheat harvest.
U.S. Wheat Associates note that Kansas has completed 99% of its harvest, while Colorado and Nebraska are closer to 75% complete.
To learn more about what’s happening in Nebraska and across the country, we reached out to Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board. Schaneman recounted the good and the bad moments of this year’s crop cycle in a conversation on July 17.
“We had a relatively good planting season,” he said. “We were able to get the crop in on time. We’ve seen adequate moisture but, in some cases, too much moisture. Producers were a little worried about the size of the crop heading into the winter. If you look into the whole area, though, we had a fairly mild winter. They would refer to it as pretty open – which means that we did not have a lot of snow.”
Schaneman said that as soon as the spring rolled around and the crop greened again, farmers showed a lot of optimism. However, it only takes one weather event to raise concerns about quality. Late in the spring, a snowstorm covered a large portion of Kansas, Nebraska, Colorado, and parts of the Oklahoma panhandle.
“We have seen various degrees of damage in the harvest [from this storm],” he said.
The Northern Plains Are Roasting
On Monday, the USDA didn’t offer us any insight into the health of the winter wheat crop, but weather reports and conversations with members of our FarmLead team who recently visited the Dakotas tell us that much of the crop is under duress in the region.
Mark Hodges, Executive Director of Plain Grains in Oklahoma, notes that South Dakota’s harvest is 31% complete, while Montana sits at 5%, and North Dakota at 1%. 
U.S. Wheat Associates said that much of the Montana, South Dakota, and North Dakota crop had been used for livestock feed, while roughly one-third of the existing crop has been harvested.
Pacific Northwest Growers Prepare for Harvest
While farmers have been active across Texas, Oklahoma, and Kansas, where nearly all of the crop has been harvested, the Pacific Northwest (PNW) is just getting started. The percent of the PNW Washington winter wheat harvested sat at 12%. PNW Oregon sat at 11%, and PNW Idaho was sitting at just 1%.
To better understand quality on the West Coast, we caught up Monday with Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League.
“We are ramping up this month,” he said of farmers efforts to start collecting the harvest.
Rowe offered a positive outlook based on early reports of crop conditions.
“I’ve heard a few things from early returns – though we haven’t got a lot of data,” Rowe said. “Indicators are that the harvest looks good. Other than some dry areas, a lot of growers are looking at an above-average crop. Quality looks good so far for soft white wheat. We’re expecting an average of around 9% to 10% in protein.”
Rowe explains that this protein range would be good to meet demand on the export markets. He also notes that local farmers are expecting above average yield and that anyone growing and selling red wheat will likely “do well with the run up in prices.”
Nebraska Highlights Quality Concerns
In their weekly report, U.S. Wheat Associates said that disease and “relentless moisture” have affected crops after maturity in western Kansas, eastern Colorado, and western Nebraska. Schaneman pointed to a widespread bout of wheat streak mosaic virus, which ranged from mild to severe across many regions of the state. 
Schaneman also says that he has viewed a small sample size of their crops, but protein levels are in a wide range, between 8.8% and 13%. He hopes that the majority of protein will fall into a range between 10.0 and 10.5.
“This is the third crop in a row where we’ve had lower proteins,” he said. “I would say that for customers seeking higher protein wheat, it’s out there and it’s probably in limited supply. If you are looking, you’ll find what you’re looking for, but you’ll have to pay [a premium] for it.
Why Grain Testing Makes Producers More Competitive
U.S. Wheat Associates note that current testing indicates that the overall crop average now at 60.0 lb/bu. That figure was down slightly from 60.4 lb/bu last week. They also cited that protein levels remained at an average of 11.3%.
As Schaneman hints, competition for higher quality grain could fierce as the harvest comes to a close. To get a sense of what buyers are seeking, we spoke with Courtney Boryski, a grain trader with Hansen-Mueller.
In current conditions, Boryski explains that there isn’t low demand for high protein wheat. Farmers who can improve their proteins will naturally see higher demand for their product.
However, it’s also important that producers take another critical step in the grain marketing process. Boryski argues that grain testing is an important step that producers can take to expedite the selling process and to find eager buyers seeking a unique set of grain specifications.
“As a buyer, one of the most valuable things on a website like FarmLead is that we need to see those tests,” Boryski said. “With durum, spring wheat, and hard wheat we need to see these quality specs.”
Boryski notes that she could choose to price like an elevator. However, she explains that she can and is willing to pay more based on the specifications of the grain.
“It’s valuable to see if they have grading tests for what they are selling,” she said. “I may pay higher a higher price because I can get what I want.”
On Thursday, we’re going to dive deeper into our conversation with Boryski and get a better understanding of the types of premiums that producers can obtain if they get their grain tested and understand the varieties sought by buyers on the FarmLead platform.