Kansas farmers are harvesting a smaller winter wheat crop amid an ongoing drought

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MAYFIELD, Kan. (AP) — Kansas farmers are harvesting a smaller winter wheat crop amid an ongoing drought, but the size of the crop is offset some by higher-quality wheat and rising prices.

“Our wheat is rolling out a little better than we anticipated two months ago and we got a little bump in the price,” grower Dennis Tencleve said after dumping a load of wheat at the elevator near Mayfield in south-central Kansas.

Tencleve’s yields have been running in the low to mid 30 bushels per acre over the 3,000 acres of wheat he is cutting, but test weights are above the 60-pound-an-acre industry standard, with his loads weighing in at 60 to 62 pounds per bushel.

Tencleve said that last year he had good yields amid low prices. Prices are up this year, but his yields are down.

It’s a familiar refrain as the harvest ramped up across Kansas this past week.

The government forecast U.S. winter wheat production at nearly 1.2 billion bushels, down 6 percent from last year. Kansas is the nation’s leading wheat producer with a forecast of 270 million bushels, down 19 percent compared to a year ago. Kansas is expected to harvest 7.3 million acres of wheat.

The hot, dry weather led Aaron Harries, director of marketing for the industry group Kansas Wheat, to expect the harvest to be near the halfway point this weekend. The federal government reports harvest progress on Mondays, and last Monday the Kansas crop was 2 percent harvested.

The nation’s wheat harvest typically begins in the southern states and moves northward as crops ripen. In Oklahoma, the harvest was 75 percent done on Monday, just as cutting was gearing up in Kansas. Harvest activity has since spread quickly across Kansas.

By Friday, farmers had started cutting around Concordia in north-central Kansas — just 20 miles from the Nebraska border, said Stacy Latourneau, controller for the Cloud County Co-op Elevator Association.

Better yields are expected as the harvest moves further north into northwest Kansas, northeast Colorado and Nebraska — places where they have had more beneficial rains, Harries said.

The cash price at the Progressive Ag Co-op elevator in Mayfield on Tuesday was $5.69 a bushel, well above the $3.25 a bushel at this time a year ago, said manager Mike Reed.

“It’s always disappointing when you don’t raise a good crop, but prices being up help,” Reed said.

At the Farmers Co-op grain elevator in Wellington, manager Curt Guinn noted cash prices for winter wheat were under $5 a bushel just three weeks ago.

“Early reports were talking about a dismal year,” Guinn said. “Now that we’re getting a few bushels in, farmers are anticipating a better crop.”

Another bright spot is the higher protein levels growers are seeing. Tencleve’s crop’s protein levels are good at 12.5 percent.

Wheat crops with protein levels of 12 percent or more fetch premium prices because that higher quality wheat is used to make bread. The protein in flour gives it strength when mixed with water and yeast, allowing the bread to rise better for fluffier loaves.