The potential for early-season cash flow has many Mississippi farmers loading their planters and heading to the fields to begin planting a winter wheat crop. To the south, however, Louisiana growers are, for the most part, opting to wait until next spring to begin seeding their 2002 crops.

“There doesn't appear to be a tremendous amount of interest in planting a winter wheat crop down here,” said Edward Twidwell, Extension wheat specialist at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, La.

“We had a dry growing season last year without many disease problems, so I would have thought there would be more interest in planting wheat this year, but that doesn't appear to be the case. At this point, it doesn't look like we will exceed the acreage numbers planted in 2000,” he said.

Louisiana producers harvested approximately 185,000 acres of wheat in 2000, with an average yield of 53 bushels per acre. “That was a reward yield for the state,” Twidwell said. “I would estimate the state's wheat acreage to be around 140,000 to 150,000 in 2001.”

The Louisiana Agricultural Statistics Service agency reports that an estimated 110,000 acres of wheat was harvested across the state in 1999, up from less than 100,000 the previous year. Louisiana's state wheat yield averages approximately 50 bushels per acre, with more than half of the state's acreage double-cropped with soybeans.

“We don't have an enormous amount of fluctuation in wheat acreage from year to year. Statewide, our wheat acreage varies, plus or minus, by only about 20,000 acres each year,” Twidwell said. “This year's relatively low wheat prices are resulting in only lukewarm interest in the crop among Louisiana farmers.”

There doesn't appear to be any lack of interest in wheat among Mississippi Delta growers.

Extension agent Tommy Baird in Indianola, Miss., said he expects winter wheat acreage across the state will increase substantially in 2001-02.

“In Sunflower County, we'll likely see a 25 percent increase in wheat acreage this year. We had 27,800 acres planted last year in the county and we are figuring on at least an additional 10,000 acres this year,” he said. “From what I hear, the same scenario will play out in counties across the state.”

Mississippi growers, he said, need an additional crop to help them over the hump because of the depressed cotton and soybean prices, and wheat may be an option to provide growers with an early return on their investment.

Baird said most of the state's wheat acreage increase will be double-cropped with irrigated soybeans. “An early wheat crop gives growers a pretty good window of opportunity if they have irrigation capabilities.”

The Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service in Jackson, Miss., said producers across the state harvested 225,000 acres of wheat in the spring of 2001, with an average estimated yield of 52 bushels per acre. That's a considerable increase from what the state's wheat farmers have been planting in the past few years. In 1999, Mississippi producers harvested about 160,000 acres of wheat, and before that, less than 150,000 acres of wheat were planted each year statewide.

Wheat growers in Missouri are just off last year's pace, with 82 percent of the state's wheat crop seeded and 56 percent emerged by Nov. 4, 2001. That's four days behind last year, but \still within the state's average planting schedule. The portion of the wheat crop that has already been planted is faring well, with 62 percent reportedly in good condition and 36 reportedly in fair condition, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

In Arkansas, where favorable weather conditions are expected to push wheat acreage above the million-acre mark, wheat planting is progressing quickly.

Like their counterparts in Missouri, Arkansas farmers are running a bit behind their 2000 schedule, with 65 percent of the state's crop planted and 42 percent emerged.

Across the Mid-South, approximately 2.9 million acres of wheat was planted during the fall of 2000.


e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com.