- Associated Press - Saturday, May 2, 2015

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) - Farmers and other agriculture industry leaders will fan out across Kansas in the coming days to examine the extent of damage to winter wheat from drought, disease and winterkill.

The Wheat Quality Council’s forecast of the size of this year’s crop is expected to be announced Thursday.

The group’s hard red winter wheat tour has drawn a record number of expected participants this year, with more than 90 people signed up, said Marsha Boswell, spokeswoman for the industry group Kansas Wheat. She said it’s not clear what has spurred so much interest, but some think social media may be playing a part.

Reports of a heavy infestation of the disease have surfaced in southeast Kansas near Altamont and more moderate cases have also surfaced in Labette around Labette County. Kansas State Research and Extension has also reported stripe and leaf rust may be active in Barber, Ottawa, Allen, Bourbon and Anderson counties. The disease has the potential to cause losses of 40 percent or more to a wheat crop when it occurs prior to heading on some varieties.

“The time from now until harvest is crucial,” Boswell said.

The tour is also going to looking for drought stress in wheat fields in arid southwest Kansas. The state got some welcomed rain in the past couple of weeks, but precipitation remains below normal. Timely rains from now until harvest could still bring in an average crop in Kansas.

“What we are looking at right now is the average,” Boswell said. “But it could still lose out to anything. It is a fragile stage right now for wheat.”

A year ago, Kansas farmers hauled in 246.4 million bushels, far short of the 328 million bushels the state has averaged in the past decade.

The National Agricultural Statistic Service this past Monday rated 31 percent of the wheat in Kansas to be in poor to very poor condition. It categorized about 43 percent to be in fair condition, 24 percent in good condition and 2 percent in excellent condition.

A year ago, the group made 587 stops across the hard red winter wheat growing areas of Kansas, including a couple of routes that included neighboring Nebraska and Oklahoma.

This year’s trek kicks off on Monday afternoon with a meeting in Manhattan in northeast Kansas. The following morning attendees split up in various cars and take various routes to Colby in northwest Kansas, stopping numerous times along the way to closely examine fields.

On Wednesday the group again splits up and takes different routes from Colby across much western Kansas before eventually ending up in Wichita. Then on Thursday, they head out of Wichita to Kansas City, Missouri, where they plan to announce the tour’s forecast.

“During the tour, the markets are definitely watching it,” Boswell said. “And it does affect the market.”

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