08 Aug Emma: What’s What about Wheat
I’ve been answering questions from one of our followers, Win. There have been some great ones. I’ve addressed moving equipment and even how we handle customers. I hope you’ve all learned something new about custom harvesting, because I’ve had fun answering the questions. This post will actually get into the harvest part, and all about wheat.
Often I read about “testing” for various factors, how is that accomplished? What exactly are “test weight”, “protein”, “yields”, etc., and what values would represent a respectable level?
Before we bring the big machines to a field we go inspect the fields.This means you walk out into the field and pick a few heads of wheat, thrash them out in your hand, and bite on them. If the kernels are soft, or if the wheat is still green, then it isn’t mature enough to cut – or the moisture content is too high. If the wheat is ready it will be dry. When you put the kernels in your mouth and bite down they will be hard, and crack open.
Being able to pinpoint readiness comes with experience. One of the first lessons every farm kid learns is how to test wheat. Believe it or not, but if you put a spoonful of wheat in your mouth it will make chewing gum. The gluten of wheat, combined with the chewing creates gum. It tastes just like it sounds – fresh, earthy, and nutty – just like wheat. Think of whole grain bread and what it tastes like.
After the field is inspected and we think it’s ready to test for moisture we bring in the machines. We cut a sample of wheat before we start harvesting the entire field. We’ll cut a big enough space for the semi to be able to pull into the field and turn around, and once this is complete we’ve harvested enough grain to be able to test. That may sound like a large area to test, but in reality you only need around two or three cups of wheat to do a test. We cut such a large area because wheat varies from head to head. One may test 16 percent moisture while others may only test 10 percent.
We test the moisture by pouring wheat into a moisture tester that either the harvester has, or by taking it to town to the elevator where they have a moisture tester. You want the moisture to be around 13 percent. One of the deciding factors in whether to continue to cut or wait is if the elevator will take the wheat. Some elevators won’t take wheat that has higher moisture content. We can actually harvest wheat when the moisture is up to 16 to 17 percent.
Moisture percentage is a concern because of storage. If wheat is wet you can’t store it, or it will mold – or if the wheat isn’t mature enough it hasn’t reached its full potential. On the other hand if wheat is too dry a farmer can be docked because test weight will decrease, or is not up to a standard weight.
Test weight and protein levels are other factors that determine the value of the crop. Test weight is how many pounds one bushel weighs. One bushel is equivalent to 9.3 gallons. The standard weight of one bushel is 60 pounds. If the farmer sees a 64 pound test weight there is often a premium for the wheat because it’s above the standard. The same thing occurs with protein levels. Depending on where you are in the country the elevator may, or may not, test for protein. If they do, and it’s above the standard there is a premium. If it’s below the standard they will likely take a discount on the price. The yield of crop is how many bushels there are in one acre.
Agricultural land is typically measured in section which are one square mile (640 acres), by a half-section which is one mile by a half-mile (320 acres), or by a quarter which is 1/4 mile by 1/4 mile (160 acres). An acre is equivalent to 43,560 square feet.
Do values change depending on geography?
The wheat absolutely changes depending where you are. There are many factors that go into how the crop will turn out. Variable can be soil, weather, growing season, planting preparation, weed or pest pressure and variety. If you plant winter wheat the end outcome could depend on how the winter was as far as temperature and moisture. If you planted spring wheat it could depend on when you could get into the field to plan, how soon the days turned hot, or if there was a late frost.
Weather is the biggest factor in farming. No matter what time of year there are always weather concerns that can make or break a year’s income. An example is the northern part of the country this year with excessive moisture, and the southern part with extreme drought. There are many variables related to weather like hail and tornadoes that can destroy a crop, or excessive moisture that turns into a breeding ground for numerous diseases like rust or scab. Lack of moisture presents fire and insect hazards.
To be a farmer you really have to be on top of things and there is tremendous stress involved. Farmers are the biggest gamblers out there, but for a good reason – to feed the world.
Who plants a seed beneath the sod and waits to see, believes in God!
Be safe and God bless.
Emma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. All Aboard is sponsored by High Plains Journal and DuPont Crop Protection.