Michigan wheat harvest update – July 15, 2021

Wheat producers are facing challenges during wheat harvest.

Three wheat stems, the farthest right is yellow and mature.
Photo 1. The progression of wheat to physiological maturity includes the penduncle, or stem the head is connected to, turning yellow. The head on the right has reached physiological maturity and grain fill is over. Moisture content is 35-40% at this point.

Wheat harvest was halted by frequent rainfall over the past few days where nearly all of Michigan received at least some rainfall. Farmers are facing several challenges including preharvest sprout, dry grain with green stems making it difficult to combine, dry stems but wet grain that doesn’t seem to want to dry, and a few other diseases such as black point, loose smut and sooty mold (More on these can be found in “Smuts and bunts of small grains” from Michigan State University Extension.).

I would estimate statewide about 55-60% of the crop is harvested. White wheat has been hardest hit by preharvest sprout. Falling numbers is a test that elevators use to determine how much sprout has occurred. While this test is much better than just visually inspecting grains, it is not a silver bullet. Differences in falling numbers are due to variety and environmental factors. Falling numbers will vary across a field and, likewise, vary within a load of grain. So, where the probe is taken can change the falling numbers result in the same load.

We rate preharvest sprout in our wheat performance trials (see Table 3 in 2020 Michigan Wheat Performance Trials Report). Heads are harvested at physiological maturity (Photo 1), put in a misting chamber in the greenhouse for three days and then rated for the level of sprout on a scale from 0-9 with 0 being no sprout seen and 9 being completely sprouted. In 2020 trials, white wheats averaged a score of 7.2 and red wheat averaged 2.3. While red wheat typically is less susceptible to preharvest sprout, there are some varieties that scored above a 5 and will sprout given proper conditions. See Table 3 in 2020 Michigan Wheat Performance Trials Report for specific variety results.

We have a changing weather pattern that should allow harvest to resume this weekend and next week. Get your wheat harvested as soon as possible and preferably before the next rainy spell. Paying a few cents for drying charges may be well worth it to preserve quality. Please work with your local elevator to discuss quality, submit samples if they want and develop a plan for delivering your grain. Grain quality is not just the farmer’s problem nor just the elevator’s problem nor just the millers’ problem—it is an industry problem that we all need to work collectively to address.

If you have poor quality wheat, what are your options?

First, wheat that does not meet milling quality requirements can be fed to livestock. Adding wheat to a ration is more feasible when corn prices are higher. Find out more about feeding sprouted grain to swine, poultry, cattle and sheep in “Feeding Value of Sprouted Grains” from North Dakota State University.

Second, sprouted wheat can be used for cover crop seed. In most cases, wheat with 5% sprouts can be successfully used as a cover crop. Germination tests should be done to determine viability. More information about using seed for cover crop and testing can be found in “Using pre-harvest sprouted wheat grain as seed” from MSU Extension.

For more information on preharvest sprout, falling numbers, grain quality and crop insurance, please visit the last issue of the Michigan Wheat Program’s Wheat Wisdom E-newsletter.

Read the July 3, 2021, Wheat Wisdom E-newsletter

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