Siemer Milling Co. processes approximately 1 million pounds of flour a day at its corporate headquarters facility, so it has great interest in the status of Illinois wheat fields.

This Effingham County company has long helped with area field checks as part of the Illinois Wheat Association's Wheat Plot Tour, which provides an estimate of the health and yield of crops throughout much of central and southern Illinois.

"We want to have a good idea of what the crop conditions look like and the soil productivity of Illinois," said grain merchandiser Dave Devore as his tour group gathered at Siemer Milling's facility on Main Street in downtown Teutopolis.

The tour group at Siemer Milling and three others starting out in Mascoutah, McLeansboro and Mount Olive checked a total of 58 fields in 20 counties throughout the day on May 21. They gathered that evening at the Southern Illinois University Belleville Research Center to share their findings.

The next day, the Illinois Wheat Association reported that the tour groups ended up projecting a total yield of 104 bushels per acre for the 2024 harvest.

"This crop has the potential to be another record breaker. We just need dry weather the next three to four weeks so we can get this crop harvested and in the bin," Devore said.

He said the record for the state was set last year at 80 bushels per acre.

During the field checks, tour participants fanned out among rows of wheat crops. Each small group selected a plant to examine, recording the number of tiller shoots on the plant and the kernels on part of a sampled head of grain.

Jessica Rutkoski, assistant professor and small grains breeder at the University of Illinois, said they also checked the condition of the flag leaf that helps feed nutrients into each plant and looked out for any kernels that had turned white due to the plant being exposed to excessive levels of rainfall.

"We did have concerns about all the rain," Devore said of the spring rainfall. "Wheat is a dry weather crop."

The tour included a check on a wheat field at the southwest corner of Montrose Road and Sigel Road in Cumberland County, where Rutkoski and her students have been regularly monitoring small test plots planted and maintained with various farming practices.

Doctoral student Lucas Munaro from Brazil said the Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences monitors more than 10,000 wheat test plots throughout the state as part of its efforts to provide up-to-date research to help farm operations.

"People don't realize how much wheat is in the state of Illinois," Rutkoski said.

She said Illinois has the highest acreage of wheat in an eastern region of the United States that includes Missouri.

The wheat association reported that Illinois famers harvested 780,000 acres of this crop in 2023, up from 560,000 in 2022.

Munaro said wheat is an unappreciated crop in Illinois. He said farmers can plant winter wheat in late fall and then harvest it in mid-summer so that their land can then be readied for soybeans. He said the planted wheat helps to prevent erosion and adds nutrients to the soil in the meantime.

As someone studying plant breeding, Munaro said visiting the Wheat Plot Tour fields and the U of I test plots provides great opportunities for him and his fellow students to see different growing environments in Illinois firsthand.

"We have very good farmers we work with. That helps a lot," Munaro said. "We have good community support."