Rains prepare wheat fields The recent rains that moved across the Delta has put wheat fields in a better position than at this time last year, says Arkansas Extension wheat specialist William Johnson.

"Last year, we were extremely dry at wheat planting in north Arkansas. Optimum time to plant in the northern half of the state is at the end of September. Last year, we had no soil moisture and lots of farmers had to dust the wheat in. This rain sets us up for good moisture and emergence. That should get a good wheat stand started."

Beds More and more farmers are going to wheat on beds, says Johnson. Many are going to the 60-inch beds so they can later water soybeans in the middles in a no-till, double-crop situation.

The drawback to that is potholes. If you have potholes, they'll grow and get bigger because water tends to pond there. Any irrigation runs to the indention and leads to puddling up.

"But on level or precision-graded fields with a constant slope, bedding works extremely well. The 60-inch beds also make it easier for the surveyor. You don't bounce as much when setting up irrigation," says Johnson.

Varieties Any list of "hot" varieties has to include Coker 9663, says John-son. "It's yielded so well the last couple of years that everyone is paying attention to it. It has really high test weight and has held up as resistant to leaf rust. It is susceptible to stripe rust, though, so you need to keep an eye on it. But in Arkansas, leaf is usually more common than stripe. Last year, was probably one year out 10 that we'll see stripe rust in any significant numbers."

Researchers see more and more data showing that the better the seedbed preparation - the more fine-tuned it is - the better wheat at the end of the season.

"Lots of farmers are planting no-till wheat into rice fields. That works fantastically if you have good, smooth levees. Levees need to be smoothed out so water won't pond.

"With this rainfall, the burn bans should be off. If they are, fields can be burned off and stubble can be gotten rid of."

If you're planting no-till and have any type of winter weed at all, use a burndown herbicide, says Johnson. If you forego that, make sure to plant a variety that is Sencor-tolerant.

"Winter weeds in a no-till situation are a whole different animal than weeds in a conventional system. Ryegrass is a bigger problem in no-till if you don't use a burndown. Ryegrass that's up now will be tillered by November. In no-till situations, the first flush of weeds that come up after a rain now will often be the worst of the season."

Temperatures are a key component when looking at planting timing. That's especially true with full-season varieties like Terral 8555 and Rhone, says Johnson.

"Those should be planted during the first two weeks of the planting window. In the latter part of the window, we plant Coker 9663, Agripro Shelby, the medium-early varieties. That way we don't have to be so concerned about winterkill next spring. The medium varieties should be planted mid-window. That way they can take advantage of early growth plus they won't be hurt too badly by any freezes in March."

After visiting with some county agents, Johnson believes Arkansas wheat acreage will be up.

"There are reports from all over of wheat being planted by farmers who've never done so before. If we don't get extremely wet, we should be around 1.2 million to 1.3 million acres. Last year, we had about 1.15 million."

The China trade legislation that Congress just passed should make more farmers look at wheat, says Johnson.

"Our wheat exports should pick up. Also, Nebraska, Kansas and Colorado are all dry. There will be a weather scare from that area of the United States. So, with the China trade along with the weather troubles in typically strong wheat areas, there will be a lot of farmers giving wheat a long look.

"If we can get the basis, there should be an opportunity to book $3 wheat. All indications are that wheat is looking pretty sweet right now."