Kansas farmers have begun harvesting what appears to be a bountiful wheat crop, easing some of the sting from the low prices it has been fetching.
The latest forecast released Friday raised the government's estimate for the size of this year's U.S. winter wheat crop to 1.51 billion bushels. That is up 10 percent from a year ago.
Cutting in the Kiowa area near the Oklahoma-Kansas border began last Monday, but is still not in full swing because very few of the custom harvesters have made it into Kansas yet, said Steve Inslee, manager at the OK Co-op Grain Co. in Kiowa. Early loads coming in show yields of 50 to 60 bushels an acre, which far exceeds the typical 38 to 42 bushels an acre for this area.
"It has been some time since we had some pretty decent yields in this area," Inslee said.
Kansas, the nation's largest wheat producer, is expected to harvest 393.6 million bushels — up 22 percent from a year ago despite fewer planted acres. The state's fields are expected to yield an average of 48 bushels per acre.
Wheat prices have averaged $4.90 a bushel in the past year, marking a steep plunge from their peak of $7.77 during the 2012 drought, said Dan O'Brien, the Extension specialist in grain markets at Kansas State University.
The outlook for this year's wheat crop is even worse, with the Agriculture Department reporting Friday that it expects prices to range from $3.60 to $4.40 a bushel during the 2016-17 marketing year.
Farmers in the Kiowa area on the Kansas-Oklahoma line who were bringing in their first harvested bushels to the OK Co-op Grain Co. are getting $4.12 a bushel for their crop, Inslee said. About half were selling their crop, and about half were waiting until after harvest to see if prices improved.