Gerald Kubelski checks his crop as he combines wheat on his Perry County farm. Kubelski is among many producers in Illinois whose crop has been hit hard by weather-induced diseases late in the growing season.
Gerald Kubelski checks his crop as he combines wheat on his Perry County farm. Kubelski is among many producers in Illinois whose crop has been hit hard by weather-induced diseases late in the growing season.
DUBOIS, Ill. — As Gerald Kubelski steers his combine across one of his wheat fields, the yield meter registers good news. But for Kubelski and many other wheat producers in Illinois, high yields may not be enough this year.

A crop that showed a lot of promise a few short weeks ago appears to have morphed into one with a multitude of problems hitting growers in the pocketbooks.

“It seems like it never did ripen right,” Kubelski said as he rolled his machine through a field on which he grows seed wheat for a cooperative. “There is a lot of shriveled up, pink grain. I’m trying to adjust the combine to blow as much of that out as I can.”

The culprit is fusarium head blight, usually referred to as scab. The disease is caused by a fungus that thrives on cool, wet evenings and damp, humid days. Scab usually results in low test weights and high levels of deoxynivalenol, or vomitoxin.

Terry Dagg, manager of Mount Vernon Elevator, said he has seen a lot of problems with wheat this season. He has had to dock many loads because of DON and low test weights. Some have been rejected altogether.

“We’re looking at as much as a couple of dollars on DON, and the test weights are getting to the point it’s costing a $2 dock,” Dagg said. “Early on I rejected a few loads because I wasn’t sure I could get rid of it. But now we’re not really turning anything away.”

Good Yields, But …

Many producers are reporting good yields. But the effects of the poor weather conditions have cut into profits.

Brad Conant, who manages the Washington and Perry County Farm Bureau office, hasn’t heard a lot of good things about the quality of the wheat in the region.

“Most of the reports coming in are that a good majority of the wheat coming in has a level of vomitoxin in it,” he said. “It varies. You hear some stories where they’re taking it to the elevator and getting docks. I’m hearing some horror stories of $2 to $2.50 a bushel dock.”

It gets worse. There are reports of some farmers actually getting less than nothing for their effort his season. With dockage for test weight and DON levels, and the expense of transporting their grain, some wheat loads are deep in the red.

“I’ve heard a couple of stories about guys who had a trucking company and hauled their wheat directly to the river in St. Louis and by the time they got done with the $2 dock just on the vomitoxin level and dock for low test weight, and they paid the bill for transportation, they owed money,” Conant said. “It’s obviously not an ideal situation.

“The offset is that it’s really good wheat crop. I’ve heard some really good yields. One farmer came into the office today and said it’s the best wheat crop he’s ever harvested on his farm.”

Many who were able to apply fungicide in a timely manner avoided disease pressure and have had a good harvest. But others haven’t been so fortunate.

“The wet weather comes on quick. Some guys tried fungicide by airplane application early,” Conant said. “That stuff can do the job whenever conditions are right, but whenever it gets wet and stays wet, there’s really not much you can do about it.”

Early Promise

The condition of the wheat is especially disappointing considering the crop looked so good. Participants in an annual Illinois wheat tour had reported little presence of disease and a healthy overall crop.

But frequent rains and humidity provided the ideal environment for late-season development of disease and low test weights. Carl Tebbe, who manages the Gateway FS elevator at Nashville, said harvest began with promise, but has gone downhill for many farmers.

“We started harvest with good test weights — high 50s to 60,” he said. “With the recent rains, those continue to drop a couple of points with every rain.”

Dagg is seeing the same thing.

“It was like a perfect storm, with a lot of wet weather at the critical time, when the wheat was flowering and the temperature was warm enough,” he said. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it this bad.”

Conant agrees.

“In the right conditions wheat can be a really profitable crop. But when things all line up against you it can sour you pretty quick, as well,” he said.