There's so much good wheat in Colorado right now that it's nearly impossible to point to an area where the crop is less than stellar, wheat officials say.
After hosting wheat plot tours across eastern Colorado over the past week, wheat leaders reported that even areas often prone to challenging production conditions are showing exceptional yield potential.
Colorado State University wheat breeder Scott Haley said he was most impressed by the outstanding wheat he saw at the Plainsman Research Center at Walsh.
"There's some 80-bushel wheat out there right now," agreed Brad Erker, executive director of Colorado Wheat.
All of the plots in southeastern and east central Colorado — including Lamar, Burlington, Limon and Yuma — look excellent.
According to the agricultural yield survey conducted by the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Colorado is poised to harvest 88.15 million bushels, based on conditions as of June 1.
"If anything, I'd take the over on that number, because there's a lot of good-looking wheat out there," Erker said.
If that outlook materializes, it will be the sixth largest crop the state has produced since 2000, he said.
Both acreage and yields are expected to be higher than a year ago. The 41-bushel predicted average yield would best the previous year by five bushels.
While the weather overall has been largely favorable, a stormy pattern has continued to bring the threat of hail, heavy rain and high wind. The crop is also maturing one to two weeks later than normal, which raises concern that conditions could turn hot and dry during the crucial grain-fill period and drive down potential yield, Erker said.
In addition, some producers have had to spray for foliar diseases like stripe rust and deal with unwanted pests like wheat stem sawfly.
Even so, it looks like many farmers are set to harvest another bin-buster.
The same is true across much of Texas, Nebraska, South Dakota and western Kansas. In central and eastern Kansas, and much of Oklahoma, the crop has been hindered by excessive rainfall and flooding.
Monday's crop progress report from USDA showed that only 16 percent of the Oklahoma crop had been harvested compared to 70 percent at this time last year, but the estimated production figure of 119 million bushels is still higher than a year ago.
Erker said production is also up worldwide and sizeable enough to outpace demand.
"We could see record-ending stocks by the end of the year," he said, calling the price outlook "bleak."
He also predicted strong demand for high protein wheat, which has been the trend the last few years.
"With a large crop coming on, we would recommend any high protein wheat be segregated if you have a way to do it, because there's a good likelihood we'll see premiums for high protein wheat this year," he told growers.
When crops are large, protein levels tend to go down, creating an incentive for grain elevators to seek higher protein kernels to use for blending and merchandizing the crop.
In recent years, wheat breeders, farmers and agronomists have all been putting more emphasis on quality characteristics like protein and milling and baking attributes as new value-added marketing channels emerge. Erker gave the example of Farm Strategy Consultants, a Kansas-based marketing initiative that tests wheat quality at harvest and coordinates delivery to specific end-users in exchange for a premium.
Haley said the goal of his breeding program is to develop varieties with exceptional yield potential that also have desirable end-use characteristics.
The highlight of the annual wheat tours is walking through the variety trials with Haley as he offers his impressions and evaluations and introduces experimental lines under development at CSU.
Attendees also get to take home a copy of CSU's latest variety trial report to use for future reference.
Langin, Otero and Breck are currently the state's top performing varieties, but there are lots of options to choose from. A total of 38 varieties, representing public and private breeding programs, were included in this year's trials.
Three hard white varieties — Snowmass, Snowmass 2.0 and Breck — qualify for Ardent Mills' premium program, which currently starts at 40 cents per bushel. There are also varieties available (and more under development) that feature the new CoAxium herbicide-tolerant trait, funded and licensed by Colorado wheat producers, which is generating considerable interest in the state and beyond as a tool to manage invasive grassy weeds like rye.
Rick Novak, director of Colorado seed programs, said he sometimes hears growers complain that they have too many choices, making planting decisions difficult.
CSU's comprehensive 65-page report is intended to help them navigate the selection process. In addition, growers can go to RamWheatDB.com to compare varieties using CSU's extensive online database.
CSU is also becoming more precise at pinpointing how localized weather conditions impact variety performance. Two years ago a couple of graduate students built weather stations at each of the variety trials, according to Sallie Jones-Diamond, a crops testing research assistant at CSU.
She also noted that a new study on nitrogen application and response has been added at ten of the state's trial locations.
The final stop on this year's tour was held in conjunction with the 110th field day of the Central Great Plains Research Station near Akron.
Despite its long presence in the region, the station was one of multiple federal Ag Research Service sites slated for closure in President Trump's proposed 2017 budget.
Since then, farm groups have rallied around its importance as the only federal research farm located within the unique microclimate of northeastern Colorado.
Over the years, researchers there have conducted notable research on dryland and limited irrigated farming, crop rotation and cover cropping under semi-arid conditions.
They've also recently started to focus on the use of precision agriculture in dryland farming systems, Erker said.
Though preliminary calls to shut down the station have been thwarted for now, Erker said the grower group would continue to back the facility and seek strategic solutions to keep it operating.
"We as wheat farmers don't want to lose the assets that are out there, including the buildings, the land and the people who work there," he said. "We're fighting hard to keep it open."