Arkansas farmers who decided to plant wheat last fall despite the prospect of high fertilizer prices and concerns about overall profitability, are reaping the benefits.

Nitrogen fertilizer prices this spring never reached as high as feared, and market prices have been favorable. Diseases, so far, have been almost nonexistent.

“I think producers who didn't plant wheat in the fall are wishing they had planted some because there have been some good pricing opportunities,” says Jason Kelley, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

“Many producers have booked wheat at quite profitable prices. And the nitrogen fertilizer prices have been around $300 to $350 a ton. Many thought it would be $400.”

Kelley estimates farmers planted 370,000 acres of wheat, up from last year's 220,000 acres. Last season's crop was planted during a rainy fall in 2004 that limited planting. The 2006 crop was planted in a dry fall. However, 370,000 acres is still drastically short of the 10-year average of about 800,000 acres.

He said a record warm fall and winter has pushed the wheat ahead of normal development. He estimates the crop is about a week ahead in many fields.

“Overall, I think the crop looks fantastic,” Kelley said. “It's growing well and we have a good yield potential in many fields. But we're a long ways from having the crop in the bin. A lot of things could happen between now and harvest.”

The specialist said most of the nitrogen fertilizer has been applied. The last of it will probably go out as soon as the ground dries.

“It was dry most of the winter, and fields where spring nitrogen was applied in late January or early February look good, but fields where nitrogen was delayed until late February don't look as thick.

“We'll be harvesting in June. If things go well, wheat farmers will probably have a little money to pay for other costs this summer.”

Meanwhile, Kelley said another grain crop that has seen a drastic reduction in acreage is corn. He estimated that farmers will plant 175,000 acres, down from 230,000 acres last year.

Nitrogen prices and fuel for pumping are the main reasons for the reduction, Kelley said. Planting has already started in southern Arkansas. Warm temperatures earlier in March encouraged some corn to emerge already.

Unfortunately, heavy recent rain and cold weather is making it tough on seed and seedlings. “It's a pretty tough plant so it should pull through,” Kelley said. The only fear is that continued bad weather could promote seedling diseases and cause seed to rot.

Kelley said corn prices are in the $2.40 range, which is better than last year, but farmers would like to see $3 a bushel.


Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.