Early optimism makes way for more worry over wheat.

The buildup to the next wheat harvest had its share of optimism earlier this year in Kansas, thanks in part to above average rainfall in parts of the state.

That rosy outlook, however, has made way for a bit more sketchy forecast now that test-cutting has begun in southern Kansas.

The first test cuts revealed a promising crop at least in southern parts with farmers looking forward to 40 to 45 bushels an acre.

Moving northward, though, there's cause for concern.

Even though a mild winter, rain and hot weather early in the spring helped the wheat along, the conditions also left the plants more vulnerable. And naturally, the weather failed to cooperate in some areas.

As of Tuesday morning, local precipitation for the year was at 5.42 inches, below the normal for the year of 5.88 inches an unwelcome turnaround from the above-average precipitation totals earlier this year.

Unfortunately, the shortage of subsequent rain coupled with disease pressure and unseasonably warm temperatures took a toll on the crops.

The Kansas Agricultural Statistics Service downgraded its crop assessment, and now rates 22 percent of the wheat in poor to very poor condition, with 35 percent in fair shape, 36 percent in good and 7 percent in excellent condition.

If there's a positive to embrace, it's that the wheat still is in much better shape than last year's drought-ravaged crop.

In 2011, southwest Kansas in particular was punished by some of the driest weather in decades and the worst conditions some area farmers had ever seen.

They were left to salvage what they could of their wheat as the region received less than half of the normal amount of precipitation for the year.

Meanwhile, results for the current wheat crop year should be known earlier than normal. Even though Kansas producers usually don't start cutting wheat until well into June, they'll do so sooner this year because of the crop's fast start.

And as farmers head to the fields, they'll at least have a glimmer of hope something in painfully short supply the last time around in drought-stricken Kansas.