Bismarck, N.D. A group that organizes an annual tour of North Dakota wheat fields says this year's crop has so much promise that the state could surpass Kansas as the nation's top wheat producer.
"It's not likely, but possible," said Ben Handcock, executive vice president of the Pierre, S.D.-based Wheat Quality Council.
North Dakota and Kansas historically have competed for the unofficial title, which has no real significance outside of coffee shop bragging rights. Kansas, which grows winter wheat, has worn the crown the past seven years and easily fended off a challenge two years ago. North Dakota's primary crop is spring wheat.
"I hope (North Dakota farmers) do have a good crop," said Brett Myers, executive vice president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers. "We don't wish bad luck on anybody."
Thirty-six grain industry officials who spent three days last week examining 332 fields across North Dakota and into South Dakota and Minnesota pegged the potential of this year's spring wheat crop at 38.8 bushels per acre. The durum wheat potential was estimated at 29.8 bushels.
The figures are a few bushels higher than U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates issued last month. Updated Agriculture Department projections are due Aug. 12.
Handcock cautioned the wheat tour numbers were estimates based only on three days of observations, but the tour numbers typically are close to how the crop actually turns out. Tour participants use a formula developed by North Dakota State University.
"What we saw was certainly a better-than-average crop," Handcock said. "The Kansas number keeps going down, and it's a possibility that North Dakota could be the No. 1 wheat state."
The Agriculture Department last month lowered the Kansas wheat crop estimate from 351 million bushels to 313 million, a drop of 12 percent. Handcock said he expected the August forecast to lower the production estimate to around 310 million bushels.
"It's possible to get that amount in North Dakota," he said.