SIDNEY, NE — Wheat harvest is just about wrapped up in Nebraska. After a rough 2020 growing season marred by Mother Nature and economic downturn, 2021 showed a step in the right direction.

"Some folks around us have said the quality of the wheat, in terms of test weight and proteins, have been one of the highest quality harvests we've had in a number of years," Nebraska Wheat Board member Tyson Narjes said. "As a whole, the harvest went rather smooth."

Narjes farms wheat near Sidney. To go with the quality of the wheat, yields were above average in many areas. That’s not all the good news either.

"Along with that, we have $6 cash wheat for the first time in a number of years," Narjes said. "From an economic standpoint that's going to be very very beneficial to area farmers here in Nebraska."

Mother Nature took her toll on some as hail storms and high winds damaged some fields, particularly in Box Butte and Kimball counties in early July. Still it was not as crippling as last year’s drought in western Nebraska.

"Stands were probably quite a bit better than they were last year," Narjes said. "Last year it was so hot and dry in May and June that that doesn't bode well for wheat."

No one can control the weather. Farmers are focusing on a problem they may be able to. Sawflies have been an increasing problem for wheat producers over the past decade or so. The insect lays it eggs in the stem of wheat. When they hatch, the newborns cause harm to the fields. Farmers are working with researchers at the University of Nebraska to solve the issue.

"We're looking hard at that," Narjes said. "It wasn't an issue 10 years ago, but just like anything in agriculture, it's always evolving and you're always finding a different challenge. Right now in the wheat industry in Nebraska that is a very big challenge and we're trying to get ahead of it. I would say we're just a bit behind on it, but we're doing a lot of research to figure out the issue."

Wheat Board crop reports from last year say some producers in the panhandle reported losing 5-15 bushels/acre to sawflies. Narjes calls it the single-largest cause of yield loss from 2020. Solid-stem wheat could hold up better against the pest, but don’t offer as good yields as more vulnerable varieties. Those decisions anymore are part of the business.

"You always have to be on the learning curve," Narjes said. "If you sit back and think that every year will be the same, it won't be. If you're going to use what's always worked, it won't work forever. You always have to be on the front end of research and being progressive."

There’s not much down time for wheat farmers. They’re expected back out in the fields in September for planting Winter wheat.