Tim Smith pays attention to his crops like Scrooge paid attention to nickels. At a May 31 wheat field day between Holly Grove and Clarendon, Ark., Smith's meticulous work was on display. In a roadside field, were 42 varieties side-by-side in large, amber plots. It isn't just the sheer number of varieties in the test, nor the size of the plots that make the field stand out, however. It's also the way they were planted.

Last fall, Smith (who manages Martin Farms in Holly Grove) ripped the plot field right behind soybean harvest. He field-cultivated and put it up on 60-inch beds. Smith then planted wheat with a 20-foot drill on top of those beds.

“Some dirt was moved into the field with the plots a few years ago. I put plots on marginal soils because a variety that does well there likely will do well on better soils. A lot of seed reps helped plant the variety test. We had so many varieties that it took more than four hours to plant 15 acres. We had to clean the drill out after each pass — each about 700 feet long.”

Smith treated the plots like the rest of his wheat — fertilizer applications and some Tilt for disease control. “We were a bit late for a couple of early-maturing varieties, but I had to average across all the plots.”

At the field day, William Johnson, Arkansas Extension wheat specialist, said Smith's fields looked better than most others in the state. But now, several weeks after the field day, Smith says fears that excess rainfall would affect his crop were warranted. Still, the information he's gleaned from a “bad” year is valuable.

“Excluding the plots and about 35 acres, we've gone through wheat harvest, and it looks like our yields will be down 10 bushels. The high amount of rainfall hurt our yields. Between planting and harvesting the wheat we got 67 inches of rain. That's amazing. I'm surprised the wheat did as well as it did.”

At first, Smith was disappointed in the yields. But after some thought, “I've gained some perspective, and I am now much happier. It's been tough, though: we lost about 15 percent of our wheat to flooding.”

Smith's wheat yields are normally 75 to 78 bushels per acre. This year, he'll be around 68 bushels — a yield many farmers would trade for in an instant.

There were bright spots. “One bearded variety, AGS2000, cut around 80 bushels per acre. A Dixie variety, 9512, was close behind and had an exceptional test weight of around 60.3.”

Also adding to woes, a fungus new to Smith's fields — sooty mold — hit a lot of the varieties. It showed up due to a lot of rain during peak flowering. That knocked yield back even further.

“Some varieties were hit harder than others. Sooty mold can't be controlled with Tilt or Quadris, so you're stuck with black fungus on the head. Instead of the head filling out, you might get only a couple of kernels. On the plots, it appears that there's going to be a wide variance in yields. Sooty mold alone will make a big difference in some varieties.”

The Arkansas wheat harvest is progressing quickly, maybe because there isn't as much to put into the trucks, says Johnson. “We're looking at 10 to 15 bushels off last year's yields (which was around 52 bushels per acre).”

It gets worse: USDA estimates 200,000 acres of Arkansas wheat were lost to floods and other water damage. “Instead of the state harvesting 50 million to 55 million bushels, we'll end up with 40 million to 42 million bushels, a significant drop from last year.”

At the Smith field day, Johnson and Extension plant pathologist Rick Cartwright and Monroe County agent R.W. Talley spoke about the varieties planted. Their comments about some of the varieties follow:

Terral 8450: A very good variety for the whole state — especially northeast Arkansas. It has virus resistance and had very little, or no, stripe rust or leaf rust.

Terral 8555: This is a good variety for the same reasons as the 8450.

Agripro Natchez: As with Agripro Shelby, this is a good fit for fields below I-40. Shelby is also excellent on ground following rice.

AGS 2000: This variety is being distributed by Stratton Seed out of Stuttgart, Ark. It will likely have a good impact in the Grand Prairie.

Armor 3035: A good variety that fits in a variety of environments.

AR 839: Soon to be named “Pat,” this foundation seed variety is from the University of Arkansas and will be named after Pat Sullivan, the former chairman of the Arkansas Wheat Promotions Board. This variety is a bearded, high-yielding wheat. It was selected to grow on clay soils like those Sullivan used to farm around Burdette, Ark.

Pioneer 26R24: A non-bearded variety, this has been pushed by a few farmers who sing its praises. It's a really nice-yielding variety, says Johnson.

Pioneer 26R38: This is a high-yielding variety. The drawback is, you don't want to plant it early. Instead, wait 7 to 10 days after the optimum planting window, says Johnson. “For example, if the optimum window is the first couple of weeks in October, you want to plant it in the third or fourth week of October. If you don't do that, the crop can get some winter injury because it grows so fast.”

Pioneer 2684: This is still grown on quite a few acres although Johnson thinks the newer lines will likely replace it.

Pioneer 2580: This is an extremely high-yielder, but Johnson believes that 26R38 can outyield it now.

Delta King 9121: This is the only variety farmers have that's resistant to the biotype of Hessian fly found in Arkansas. It also has good virus resistance and is planted a lot in Crittenden County, Ark., where Hessian fly can be a problem. You can plant 9121 fairly early in the season.

Delta King 1551W: This variety did really well in state trials for a couple of years and then tailed off. Lately, it's been doing well again. 1551W does an excellent job in Mississippi, says Johnson.

Delta King 9410: In plots, this variety looks like a good replacement for Delta King's 9027.

Sabbe: A public variety out of the University of Arkansas, Sabbe has straw about two or three times larger in diameter than other varieties. You can put about 200 or 220 units of nitrogen and still avoid lodging. It has a shorter, waist-high stature so it's easy to no-till into.


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.