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Positive news on wheat harvest

Combines harvest a crop in southwest North Dakota on Sunday.

Cool summer helps many fields.

Harvest isn't finished yet, but reports so far indicate this was a good year to raise spring wheat in much of the Upper Midwest.

"A lot of (Montana wheat) producers are tickled pink," says Ryan McCormick, a Kremlin, Mont., farmer and president of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

Summer rains boosted wheat in his state, although the precipitation sometimes was accompanied by destructive hail, he says.

Minnesota wheat farmers, on balance, are pleased, too, says Dave Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.

"I had one older farmer tell me that this was the best year for wheat, across his farm, that he can remember," Torgerson says.

Minnesota's wheat production is concentrated in the northwest part of the state, an area where spring came late this year and forced wheat to be planted later than producers wanted. That increased the possibility that wheat, a cool-season grass, would be exposed to too much summer heat.

But extended stretches of cool weather in late June and early July and again in late July and early August gave many Minnesota wheat fields excellent weather in which to mature.

"The cool temperatures weren't good for corn and soybeans, but they really helped the wheat," Torgerson says.

Despite good overall results, however, some Minnesota wheat farmers were hurt by heavy rains and excess moisture, Torgerson says.

North Dakota's wheat harvest is less advanced, particularly in the northern part of the state. Farmers there suffered through a cold, wet spring that delayed planting, in some cases as much as three weeks.

Farmers in Benson County, in north-central North Dakota, were just beginning to harvest wheat in the last week of August, says Scott Knoke, county agent.

Early signs were mixed, with "OK" yields on some fields "disappointing" yields on others, he says.

Some wheat fields in Benson County were planted so late that they were still green in late August, he says.

Much of South Dakota's spring wheat crop also was planted late because of wet conditions.

Ruth Beck, agronomy field specialist with the South Dakota State University Extension office in Pierre, says wheat yields in her area vary greatly, but on balance are better than expected.

"For all we went through, our wheat turned out pretty well," she says.

Late-planted wheat, in particular, turned out relatively well, reflecting cooler-than-normal temperatures during part of the crop's maturation, she says.

"The late wheat is not bad," she says.

Discounts, disease

Much of the wheat harvested so far in the Upper Midwest has lower-than-ideal protein content, which leads to discounts, or price deductions.

Early on, the discounts were relatively modest, although they have been increasing recently, Torgerson says.

Overall, the quality of harvested spring wheat is good, though there have been reports of small amounts of ergot, ag officials say.

Wet conditions favor ergot, a disease that can hurt yields and quality in cereal grains.