After taking 20 cars from Manhattan to Colby to Wichita, and back to Manhattan, the attendees of the Wheat Quality Council 2019 Hard Winter Wheat Tour estimated a total crop of 306.5 million bushels for the state of Kansas.

Wheat Quality Council Executive Vice President Dave Green was happy with that guess.

“That is exactly what the yield formula and acreage would suggest,” Green said. “It looks like our group is evenly split between the group that thinks the crop is too late and may suffer from heat later on and the group that thinks the crop may get bigger because of good moisture.”

Seventy-eight people — growers, university people, seed companies, media, millers, grain companies and bakers — drove the wheat tour’s six routes through the state the first week of May. Along the way, groups stopped at fields to look for diseases, soil conditions, calculate estimated yield potential and more.

“The tour first and foremost is a training exercise,” Green said. “About two-thirds of our group have no experience.”

Groups led by experienced individuals, allowing them to learn and mingle with people from other parts of the wheat supply chain. Along the routes, drivers found a good-looking crop, but a varied one in some places.

“This year's crop tour will be remembered as cold, wet, muddy and late,” Green said. “Yields reported we above average with more uniformly good fields in the west versus central regions.”

Areas of central Kansas were affected by late planting because of rain and snow in late 2018, which Green said resulted in drowned out areas and late development. Few occurrences of disease or insects were reported, although leaf and stripe rust have been seen in south central and southwest Kansas counties.

Green said the western one-third of Kansas, along with eastern Colorado, southern Nebraska and northern Oklahoma look exceptionally good this year. Green expects soil moisture to boost yield numbers even higher than the overall estimate.

“There have not been many years when you walked in mud everywhere in Kansas,” he said. However, as I write this it continues to rain and there is growing concern about drowning the fields. Some are worried about protein levels under these conditions. We need a few weeks of open weather.”

The wheat tour tries to predict the United States Department of Agriculture May wheat yield estimate, not the actual number, because a lot can change between the tour and harvest.

“Every year, they stress that their projections are most accurate for that day, and that conditions can change,” said Lane County wheat farmers Vance Ehmke. “For instance, things look great right now, but if it were to turn off hot and dry, yields could go down. Or maybe it’ll be like 1993 when we again had a very wet winter and spring — and it kept on raining. The continued wet weather pulled down yields as well as quality, and by August 1, 10 percent of the Kansas wheat crop was still in the field.”

The tour has come under criticism that it makes the Kansas wheat crop look better than it’s going to be, causing prices to be driven down. However, Green said grain and agribusiness firms send their own scouts, and is proud that the tour makes its estimates public.

Ehmke also agreed, calling the tour one of the most important pivot points in the Kansas wheat industry.

He said the current potential for high yield has contributed to lower prices, but he doesn’t see it as the major factor. He put more blame on trade issues that have plagued the industry over the last year, including not having a trade agreement with Canada or Mexico, and leaving the Trans Pacific Partnership.

“As a farmer, I, too, am very worried about the financial implications of all these things,” Ehmke said. “But shooting the messenger, that is the Wheat Quality Council, is not the solution.”