Wheat Scouting 101

Posted April 26, 2017

Nearly 90 grain traders, government officials, reporters, millers and even a few farmers start the 2017 Wheat Quality Council’s Hard Winter Evaluation Tour on May 1. Over the next three days, they will canvass the state’s wheat crop from Manhattan to Colby to Wichita and back again. Along the way, they will stop every 15 miles or so to estimate yields in wheat fields on their routes. At the end, the results will be compiled into a yield estimate average for the Kansas hard red winter wheat crop.

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour

But, you do not have to be on the tour to scout wheat fields and make your own estimates. To help, we have compiled the steps participants will use to estimate yields so you too can participate. Justin Knopf, wheat farmer in Saline County, provided some helpful hints he and other farmers use when evaluating their fields.

What You Need:

  • One yard stick (a ruler will work in a pinch).
  • One writing utensil and notepad.
  • One calculator (the one on the phone will suffice).
  • The wheat yield formula (see below in the story).

Optional:

  • A pocket knife to slice open wheat in the boot stage to examine the wheat head.
  • The KWYC (Kanas Wheat Yield Calculator) app, downloaded onto your smart phone.
  • A camera to capture an overall view of the wheat field (the one on the phone is fine).

How to Estimate Wheat Yield and Conditions:

Step 1: Find a wheat field. If you are not a farmer or landowner, call a farmer friend or the Kansas Wheat Commission. Above all else, be respectful of other people’s property.

Wheat Tour Tip: Do not enter a fenced field, just as you would not enter a fenced yard in town.

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Step 2: Pick your scouting spot. Knopf suggested going further out in the field than the first few rows, called end rows. This is where equipment often overlaps and farmers load out their trucks near field entrances, both of which can affect tiller count.

 

 

Step 3: Observe general field conditions. Do you see weeds? Does the field have an odd color (yellow or blue)? Is the wheat stand uniform or are there bare patches in the field? How thick or thin is the canopy (where the leaves from one row touch the other, same as in a forest where the trees touch each other)?

Wheat Tour Tip: Old farmer’s scouting trick: Throw a hat into the field. If the wheat holds it up, it is generally a good, thick stand. Watch the wind!

Wheat Tour Tip: Color can be an indicator stress, which will reduce yield. A yellow cast can indicate a lack of nitrogen or drought stress. A blue cast indicates drought or heat stress.

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour
Wheat Tour Tip: Yellowed leaves at the bottom of the plant are not necessarily indicative of reduced yield. But, yellow patches on the upper leaves with red spots (pustules) indicate stripe rust .

 

 

 

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour
Wheat Tour Tip: Knopf said to pay close attention to the flag leaf, which must provide the photosynthesis to fill the wheat head with grain. If disease is present or the flag leaf is curled up, the wheat head will likely not fill to its maximum potential.

 

 

 

Step 4: Measure the height of the wheat plant. By this time of year, wheat should be well above your knee.

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour
Wheat Tour Tip: If the wheat is not taller than the rusty can you found in the ditch, it is abnormally short and will be very difficult to harvest.

 

 

 

Step 5: Examine the wheat head.

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour
If the wheat head has emerged, count the rows of spikelets (covering of the wheat kernels). Knopf said he generally looks for 12 or more in a row for a good stand of wheat. Do not count the bottom or the top. This is the maximum potential the wheat plant has at this point of growth.

 

 

 

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If the wheat head has not emerged, slide your hand up the stalk. You will feel a bump, called a node, toward the middle third of the plant. Use your pocket knife to slice open the stalk just above that node and you should find the immature wheat head.

 

 

 

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour
The wheat head should look green, not white, and be soft, but not mushy. 

 

 

 

 

While the above steps help gauge the general health and conditions of the wheat field, the next steps will be how you formulated projected yield. So, get out your handy yardstick!

 

Step 6: Measure the distance between wheat rows in inches. Record on your yardstick or notepad.

Wheat Tour Tip: The most common spacing between rows is 7.5 or 10 inches.

 

wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour
Step 7: Count the number of stalks (tillers) per foot (12 inches). Record.

Farmer Tip: Officially, for the Wheat Tour, all stalks should be counted. However, Knopf said that secondary tillers (short ones that will feel more like a blade of grass than solid like a tree trunk) are unlikely to mature in time to produce grain at harvest. You decide.

 

Step 8: Calculate yield, using one of two methods.

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Method 1 – Paper calculation.
  • Select the appropriate formula depending on whether you are in the western, central or eastern third of the state. 
  • Calculate heads per foot, per the formula.
  • Multiply the number of heads per foot by the average weight per head, per the appropriate formula.
  • Divide by row spacing.
  • Multiple the result by 19.213. Why 19.213? Ask someone more educated than us!
  • Congratulations! You have calculated projected wheat yield.
    wheat, Kansas Wheat, Wheat Quality Tour

 

Method 2 – Use the app.

  • Download the KWYC app onto your smartphone.
  • Enter the Field Name. Get creative like “Wind Turbine” or just enter something basic like “Field 1.”
  • Enter the county where the field is located.
  • Optional information: Field size or any observational notes from before.
  • Hit Save.
  • Select the field you just created and select New Sample.
  • Enter the Feekes stage of growth. The app has pictures.
  • Enter row width.
  • Enter stalks per foot.
  • Optional information: Height or a picture of the field.
  • Hit Save.
  • Re-click on the sample you edited to see projected yield according to three different formulas: Kansas Wheat Alliance, Crop Insurance and Kansas State University.

 

Step 9: Share your results!

Participants on the Wheat Tour will be tweeting results straight from the field using the hashtag #wheattour15. If you are not on Twitter, share the results with us at Kansas Wheat any way that your prefer – Facebook, e-mail, postcard – we will take them all!

Originally published May 4, 2015, Written by Julia Debes