KANSAS (KSNT) – The 2023 wheat harvest will be the smallest in over 50 years, according to V.P. of Research and Operations at Kansas Wheat Aaron W. Harries.

As of July 10, 59% of the crop has been harvested compared to the 84% average. Particularly in the western third of the state, rain delays have kept farmers out of the fields. Recent rains came too late to benefit much of the crop, according to Harries.

Due to the ongoing drought in Kansas, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) projects a 208 million bushel crop, well below Kansas’ 330 million bushel average. Some farmers are deciding to terminate crops due to crop failures, according to Harries.

“When you insure your wheat and you destroy it, because it’s nothing, then a farmer makes a decision,” Owner of Armstrong Farms Jay Armstrong said. “Do I take the money so I can plant a wheat crop next year or do I forfeit the money and decide to plant milo or soybeans so you can insure them.”

If a farmer has crop insurance, they’re required to terminate the crop to collect the payout. Farmers may decide to spray their crops with approved herbicides or till the field to kill the wheat.

“It is almost always more lucrative to harvest a wheat crop than collect crop insurance,” Harries said. “Crop insurance is a safety net program for farmers that is designed to cover their expenses from a lost crop. Collecting crop insurance is not profitable. It makes farming sustainable.”

Armstrong said insuring a crop allows farmers to recover the cost of seed and fertilizer so they can plant another year. The insurance won’t allow farmers to take part in luxuries like a vacation.

“30% of the acres in Kansas will be abandoned, they put the money into the crop and they just basically tore it up,” Armstrong said. “It is starting to rain out there now [western Kansas], they’re having to make another decision if they plant another crop and take a risk on it. That affects their insurance when they do that. It’s a tough decision for them to make, that’s why we’re seeing the prices as high as they are.”

Harries said the price of hard red winter wheat was in the neighborhood of $5 per bushel in Garden City two years ago. Now the price is $7.30 per bushel.

Crops in Kansas contribute $18.8 billion to the economy. Crop insurance covers 22.1 million acres and provides $7.6 billion in protection, according to National Crop Insurance Services.

“Traditionally we export 50% of our wheat every year,” Harries said. “Since the supply has been so low and the prices have gone high, that actually reduces our export demand, the US wheat has been priced out of the international market.”