Wheat acreage hits historic low

Soon-to-be harvested wheat in one of Boyd Funk's field

LANE COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — Across the U.S. this year, farmers planted the smallest number of acres of wheat since 1919.

That’s the new reality in Kansas as more and more farmers are planting other crops to make a profit.

“I haven’t seen prices this low since literally 40 years ago,” said Vance Ehmke, a Lane County farmer.

Grain prices have been depressed for about two years.

“These low prices are a powerful incentive to do anything other than grow wheat,” said Ehmke.

Prices are so low that farmers are losing money on their grain.

“Average cost of production on wheat is probably $4.50 or $5 a bushel,” explained Ehmke. “The price of wheat in Dighton, Kansas right now is like $3.12 a bushel, and so why do you want to do something that’s going to lose a lot of money?”

Farmers are planting fewer and fewer acres of wheat in western Kansas. Instead, producers are planting more profitable crops.

“This is a very good looking field of grain sorghum,” said Ehmke, walking through one of his fields, “and right over there, our neighbor’s got some dry land corn.”

2017 saw the fewest acres of wheat in 60 years, about 7.4 million.

“The combined corn and sorghum acreage darn near equals what wheat is, and historically it used to be, you know years ago it’s just all wheat.”

Ehmke says it will take two or three years for the market to be wheat-friendly again.

“Farmers will quit growing the crop or grow less of it, the supply will tighten up, and the supply will go back up.”

Kansas farmers are known for their wheat, and it’s a tough choice not to grow it.

“You need to adapt or die, and I think that farmers are adapting, and they’re just growing less wheat. You hate to see it, but we’ve got to do what we’re going to make the most money doing.”