An early planting and growing season typically improves a wheat crop’s potential. And by all accounts, the 2012 U.S. wheat crop across the country is progressing far ahead of schedule in most areas.

Overall, winter wheat is ahead of schedule and in better condition than last year. In USDA’s Crop Progress report for the week ending April 8, 61 percent of the winter wheat crop across the country is in good to excellent condition, compared to 36 percent at this time last year.

Even better, only 10 percent of the winter wheat crop is rated poor to very poor, compared to 36 percent last year.

State by state, winter wheat is ahead of schedule by varying degrees. In areas of Texas, typically the first HRW growing area to harvest, inadequate soil moisture continues to stress the wheat crop.

The crop is still progressing faster than normal, with 35 percent of the wheat headed out compared to the five-year average of 15 percent.

In Oklahoma, USDA reported that 41 percent of the HRW wheat crop is already headed out, compared to just 6 percent last year at this time. Mike Schulte, executive director of the Oklahoma Wheat Commission, reported that wheat is two to three weeks ahead of normal, projecting harvest to be toward the second or third week of May in the southwest corner of the state, although some producers are predicting even sooner.

“In southwest Oklahoma, I had a producer tell me that he felt they would be cutting wheat in as early as mid-to-late May,” Schulte said. “Overall, crop conditions as of right now look favorable just as long as we can dodge future possible hail and tornado damage.”

Kansas outlook

In Kansas, 79 percent of the wheat is jointed, compared to the five-year average of 32 percent and 30 percent at this time last year. Additionally, 65 percent of the wheat is rated good to excellent. According to Nebraska Wheat, Nebraska’s winter wheat crop is also about two weeks ahead of schedule with 10 percent of the wheat jointed.

In the Pacific Northwest, mixed weather across Idaho has resulted in a good-looking crop overall. According to USDA, 86 percent of Idaho’s winter wheat is rated good to excellent with 11 percent rated fair. Despite good conditions, however, Tereasa Waterman, information and education manager with the Idaho Wheat Commission, reported that winter wheat acres may be plowed under to plant other crops like potatoes or sugar beets.

Further west in Wyoming, Keith Kennedy, executive director of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission, said wheat farmers could easily start harvest as early as July 1, two to three weeks ahead of normal. He added that while there is sufficient moisture at the moment, the crop will need some significant moisture soon.

Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee President Tom Neira, who farms in central Colorado near Bennett, would also welcome additional moisture in coming weeks.

He reported, “Wheat in our area still looks good, as it had a good start last fall, but it will need a drink soon.”

Dan Anderson, who farms in far northeastern Colorado near Haxtun, reported his wheat is two weeks ahead of schedule and looking good, but agreed that it could use some moisture soon. That is on par with USDA’s report that 18 percent of the wheat in Colorado is jointed compared to 10 percent for the five-year average at this time.

The SRW crop is also progressing faster than normal.

In Ohio, winter wheat was 13 percent jointed, ahead of both last year and the five-year average.

Maryland a week ahead

In Maryland, Jason Scott, who farms in the Delmarva peninsula near Stevensville, said his wheat is about a week ahead of schedule, but cooler weather this week slowed crop progress a little.

Spring wheat planting is also ahead of schedule in most areas, with producers taking advantage of mild weather conditions to get their wheat in the ground.

According to USDA’s April 8 Crop Progress report, 21 percent of the crop has been planted, compared to 3 percent last year and the five-year average of 5 percent.

In North Dakota, 8 percent of durum and 17 percent of spring wheat has been planted. Erica Olson, marketing specialist with the North Dakota Wheat Commission, said producers are planting spring wheat and durum at least a month earlier than last year, when wet conditions delayed and prevented planting.

Farmers are also ahead of the five-year averages in both South Dakota, where 52 percent of spring wheat is seeded, and Minnesota, where 25 percent is seeded. In a normal year, farmers in both states would just be starting planting.

In contrast to most areas, farmers in northern Idaho and eastern Washington have seen greater precipitation that has slowed spring wheat planting. Scott Yates, director of communications for the Washington Grain Commission, reported that farmers were initially worried about a drought this year, but now are so water logged they may be late getting into their fields.

USDA reports that farmers have planted 15 percent of their spring wheat in Idaho and 26 percent in Washington, behind the five-year averages of 23 and 37 percent, respectively.

While the crop is mostly ahead of schedule, farmers across the country acknowledge that weather in coming weeks could have a large effect on the harvested crop.

A late frost, too little moisture or damaging storms could still hurt the wheat crop. But, for now, they are relatively optimistic.