Western North Dakota wheat, barley and canola farmers face uncertainty as lower yields are expected to accompany the region's unusually dry spring and early summer.

For canola, wheat and sunflower, this year’s dry spell and limited precipitation will dominate how production will go, and according to experts the outlook could be concerning.

“We were pretty dry and the reports on it are that the wheat is a little shorter than normal. So based on the dryness and shortness of the crop, we would anticipate that the yield will be lower than normal,” Hans Kandel, North Dakota State University Extension agronomist professor, said. “We came out of a nice moisture condition in the winter, but because of the low rainfall it has been really challenging for the early season crops. That includes the wheat, barley (and) canola.”

Kandel added, “Now that there’s a little bit of rain, crops that are presently in the phase that they call the vegetative to reproductive, those are the ones that may still be more normal.”

Similar to wheat, canola is experiencing the negative impacts of the drier conditions, Kandel said.

“The (canola) crop yield did not branch out as much as it normally does and we anticipate the canola, in the drier areas, will be lower than normal,” he said.

Ryan Buetow, cropping systems specialist at North Dakota State University Extension Center in Dickinson, called the dryer than usual weather a detriment to cereal production.

“It’s kind of been interesting here. We were so dry early on and we’ve been getting rains lately and those rains don’t really help the wheat or the canola yields at all but it should go a long way to helping out the sunflowers,” Buetow said. “The wheat aborted some of the pillars that it had. So now we’re finally getting moisture, it’s starting to shoot up pillars but it’s too late for them to (produce) heads.”

As wheat crops are now beginning to shoot up pillars, there will be less heads per plant because it’s already too far into the growing season, Buetow said, noting that some areas will also have poorer qualities because of this year’s low precipitation rates.

“Early on, the variability within fields, you’re able to see the soil in between the rows where normally you’d have the canopy closure. So it kind of defines (how) the dry conditions early on that was really when that crop needed moisture and this moisture we’re getting is too late for those crops to have a major impact on yield,” Buetow said.

Not all agree with the projects for a weak wheat output. As a grass-based crop, wheat is able to grow in “not-so hot climates” anywhere in the world and still accumulate enough moisture to succeed, Beach Cooperative General Manager Paul Lautenschlager said.

“Anybody in the world can raise wheat; they’ve proven that and it’s an easy crop to raise. It’s a high volume crop, that’s why the prices are so low,” Lautenschlager said. “…The specialty crops, such as canola and sunflower — that’s kind of where they’re making a little more money and a little more in each crop, but it’s not quite as easy to handle for the farmers.”

While projections have wheat, barley and canola taking a back seat this year, sunflowers appear to be still on projection for a good yield.

According to experts, the summer drought was not as harmful to sunflower yields compared with cereal crops, in part, because sunflowers have a deeper root system. Recent precipitation and moisture in late June and early July are projected to aid sunflowers — which are anticipated to do well.

Unlike canola and wheat, sunflowers take a long time until they reach maturity, so the drought was not as devastating to its future yield.