Cooler weather is helping the Arkansas winter wheat crop by slowing fast growth prompted by warmer-than-normal temperatures in the fall and early winter, says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension wheat and feed grains specialist.

“For most of the fall and winter we've seen above-normal temperatures,” said Kelley. “A lot of the wheat had been doing quite a bit of growing — and getting a little too much growth.”

Now that temperatures are returning to normal, “it's slowing the wheat down. If we hadn't seen the cool weather, we could've had some freeze injury later on. A cold snap would've hurt the crop.”

Rain has been another challenge for winter wheat growers. Many areas of eastern Arkansas received 3 inches or more of rain over the Jan. 12 weekend. The following weekend dropped additional rain, but less than an inch.

“A lot of wheat was underwater,” Kelley said. “Water standing for extended periods of time is going to cause damage to the wheat.”

Mitch Crow, St. Francis County Extension staff chairman, said, “Drier, sunny weather is going to be critical this spring, when the crop starts to head.”

Crow is hoping for a repeat of last year's wheat crop. “We had one of the best crops ever. It was one of those rare situations when yields and prices come together.”

According to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Arkansas producers have planted 830,000 acres of winter wheat. In 2006, Arkansas farmers harvested 305,000 acres of winter wheat, averaging 61 bushels an acre.