Spurred by warm weather, the fledgling Arkansas wheat crop has broken winter dormancy. The plants, 5 to 6 inches high at this stage, are beginning to green up and resume growing.
“The crop has really greened up because of the weather,” said Jason Kelley, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.
Kelley said he's received numerous fertilizer questions from farmers. “Arkansas farmers began fertilizing their wheat a few weeks ago to give it the boost it needs for continued good growth.”
He said warm, windy and sunny weather will help dry out fields so farmers can use ground equipment and make fertilizer applications. Many fields south of Interstate 40 have experienced a cycle of wet and dry conditions.
Kelley said most farmers are making or have made their first application of nitrogen fertilizer. The Arkansas Extension service recommends that farmers make a split nitrogen application. They should apply 40 to 50 pounds of fertilizer now and a second application with the same amount in mid-March, depending on field conditions.
The price of urea, a form of nitrogen fertilizer used by many farmers, is higher than in recent years. Kelley said farmers, on average, are paying about $250 a ton.
“Some farmers are trying to decide if they should cut back on fertilizer to save a little money,” Kelley said. “I would advise them not to cut back. Nitrogen is where they'll see the biggest bang for their buck.”
The wheat specialist said some growers are experiencing a problem with wild garlic, and they're applying herbicides. But overall, most fields don't seem to have many weed problems, he said.
“We haven't had any calls about diseases yet. It's probably a little early for foliar diseases to start showing up. There have been some reports of disease in Texas, but it's a long way off, and they're a lot farther along than Arkansas.”
Kelley said the 680,000-acre Arkansas wheat crop appears to have excellent yield potential. Couple that with favorable prices of late, and farmers have the potential to make money on the crop this year.
He said the acreage is about a third less than the 10-year average. Farmers had the opportunity to plant more wheat in the fall, but they chose otherwise, he noted.
“At the time wheat was being planted, wheat prices were not as favorable as the other commodity prices, and farmers didn't think wheat could earn them as much money as the other crops. We had a dry fall for planting, which usually spurs farmers to plant more wheat, but it still didn't happen.” Kelley said the wheat crop should be ready for harvesting in late May and in June.
“The price is going up, so maybe good prices and yields will help farmers make some money at a time when they need some cash flow to help with the expenses of planting other crops.”
Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.