2024 Kentucky Wheat Crop Update - Kentucky Farm Bureau

2024 Kentucky Wheat Crop Update

Posted on Jun 13, 2024

It's a big success story for Kentucky and Kentucky agriculture

Following a record-setting 2023 wheat crop, Kentucky producers are heading into harvest season as a top 15 wheat-producing state in the country thanks to that robust production last year.

And while this year will not reach those record heights, wheat producers in Kentucky have made great strides in production over the years.

Chad Lee, a University of Kentucky (UK) Martin-Gatton College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment extension professor and Director of the Grain and Forage Center of Excellence said while Kentucky has not always been a good wheat state, that is not the case today.

"We've become good over the last 40 years through a lot of hard work and some farmers and people in the industry who got serious about wanting to grow wheat," he said. "Thankfully they brought UK in, as well and we got serious about researching wheat. Through working together, we have put together some really good, very strong, very stable wheat crops, and we've seen that market grow.”

Many grain producers are making wheat a part of their crop rotation for multiple reasons from added farm diversification, improved soil health, and even some livestock grazing efforts.

“We have data that tells us that the wheat in the rotation improves soils and we know that it's helping reduce erosion,” Lee said. “We also know it's capturing nutrients if there's any leftover from the previous crop and we know we're getting excellent yields.”

He added that farmers have done a good job of harvesting wheat, drying it, and storing it at good quality levels that are suitable for food production on a very consistent basis.

“So, it's a big success story for Kentucky, and for Kentucky agriculture,” Lee said. “I continue to be impressed at how good our farmers are. We have really good producers in this state who understand their soils well, and their overall logistics. They understand how to manage and manage well.”

Wheat has proven to be a very versatile crop for many reasons especially when using it as a cover crop.

“It's very versatile and wheat as a cover crop, for instance, has been done for a long, long time,” Lee said. “In fact, if you go back before that 40-year period, a lot of the wheat taken to grain had been grown essentially as a cover crop.”

Lee added that wheat is phenomenally flexible in our system.

“It's a great cover crop behind tobacco acres and it will work well as a cover crop in other situations,” he said. “But I would also say the very best wheat cover crop is a wheat crop we take to grain. We get our best root development from that, and we get our most biomass from that.”

Data collected over the years verifies the increase in wheat production in this state and for several reasons, David Knopf, Regional Director, USDA, National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) noted.

“My biggest impression is the increase in productivity, nearly a bushel per acre, per year over the last 30 years,” he said. “Plant genetics, wheat research, and producer management are the trifecta that continue to push yield potential.”

Keith Sholar, a fourth-generation producer from Christian County, said wheat has always been a part of his crop production.

"We raise about 250 acres of wheat and I like keeping it in the rotation and having cover on the ground during the winter," he said. "We run double-crop soybeans after the wheat and I think it helps make for a better bean crop.”

Sholar said that even though the market can fluctuate on wheat prices, he thinks it’s better to keep the crop as part of his operation. He has also seen a tremendous increase in wheat yields over the years thanks to many factors.

“I remember a time when we were getting 40 to 45 bushels per acre and thought we were doing fine,” he said. “But over the years with improved genetics and management practices, we have come to expect yields in the 80s.”

Sholar is spot on with yield estimates as the latest USDA Kentucky data denotes, assuming a normal growing season, farmers expect a yield of 83.0 bushels per acre for the 2024 crop which is above the five-year average of 78.8.  

According to NASS information, Christian County is the leading wheat-producing county in Kentucky for 2023, with production totaling 6,156,000 bushels, setting a record high county production.

The top five counties, which account for 50 percent of Kentucky’s wheat production, include:

  • Christian County – 6,156,000 bushels
  • Logan County – 4,838,000 bushels
  • Todd County – 3,583,000 bushels
  • Simpson County – 2,995,000 bushels
  • Graves County – 2,527,000 bushels

From a national perspective, U.S. farmers are expected to produce 1.28 billion bushels of winter wheat this year, according to the Crop Production report released last month by the USDA.

"In NASS's first winter wheat production forecast for 2024, production is expected to increase two percent from 2023. As of May 1, the U.S. yield is expected to average 50.7 bushels per acre, up 0.1 bushels from last year's average of 50.6 bushels per acre," noted the report."

Sholar looks to have a good crop this year despite some weather issues along the way.

“Overall, I don't think it's going to be as good as last year, but I think it's still going to be a good crop,” he said. “My grandfather used to tell me it took a cool dry May to get a good crop. We've had the cool part, just not enough dry.”


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