After last year's tiny wheat planting window, Arkansas producers have seen a complete reversal this time around.

“This planting season has been great,” said Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension wheat specialist. “Last year, it started raining the first week of October. If you didn't get wheat planted before then, you were basically out of luck. It didn't stop raining.”

This year, Arkansas experienced little rainfall for the entire month of October. “Part of the state got some rain on Halloween, but we were still looking at a record for a dry October. And every day that was dry was one more to get some wheat planted. We'll definitely have more wheat acres than last year.”

Kelley estimates up to 500,000 acres of wheat have been planted in Arkansas this fall. This comes after only 155,000 acres of last year's crop was harvested — the lowest acreage in “a long time.”

With the arrival of November, rain returned to Arkansas. “Most areas have gotten enough rain to get the wheat up. A lot of wheat was planted into marginal soil moisture. Two weeks ago, a lot of fields looked ragged and uneven. That's turned around, though. We've got some nice stands and a good start.”

In Louisiana, it's still fairly early in the wheat planting season.

“November is normally our ideal planting period from north to south,” said Steve Harrison, LSU AgCenter agronomist. “We can plant wheat until late December with minimal adverse effects. That's an advantage for us. So a lot of wheat hasn't been planted in Louisiana yet.”

Harrison hopes the state's extended planting window will catch some rain clouds. “It's been too dry around here — incredibly dry. The basic dry patterns we've seen for the past few months are continuing. Baton Rouge got an inch of rain yesterday and that was the only place in the state that got any rain.

“Where rain does hit, I expect a lot of wheat to be planted. In north Louisiana, there's been a fair amount of wheat dusted in. Some of it is even up.”

Mississippi's 2006 wheat acreage will likely be less than it was in 2005.

“Last year, we planted about 120,000 acres,” said Erick Larsen, Mississippi Extension wheat specialist. “I suspect it will be a bit lower than that this time around. It may even be way down from our long-term average.”

High fertilizer prices — especially nitrogen — have Mississippi producers “very concerned. They're holding back from planting more acres because of that.”

Also, the great success of full-season soybeans in early planting systems has taken a toll on Mississippi wheat acreage.

“Many farmers are happier using that cropping system instead of a wheat/soybean double-cropping system. That's probably the biggest influence on our downward trend in wheat acreage over the last several years. It also hasn't helped that last year's wheat crop wasn't terribly productive.”

Input costs are also a hot topic in Arkansas and Louisiana. “Without fail, when I visit producers they mention the prices of nitrogen and diesel,” said Kelley. “That's weighing very heavily on their minds. We're at 500,000 acres but don't forget we had more than a million acres of wheat only a couple of years ago. (Input costs) are definitely helping to keep our acres down.”

The cost of nitrogen “is scaring some of our growers off,” said Harrison. “It seems that if it scares them off wheat, it'll also scare them off corn. That points to an increase in soybean acres here, although that's just a guess.

“Sometimes, we probably use more nitrogen on wheat than is needed. Yields plateau at about 70 to 75 percent of what's normally applied. So the last 25 percent of what growers normally apply doesn't do a lot of good. Producers might consider cutting that out and getting closer to the yield plateau.”

Harrison said quite a few new varieties look good in Louisiana. “One is a University of Arkansas release being marketed by Delta King: GR9108. LSU also just released a variety to Terral Seed: LA95181. Growers might be interested in that one soon.”

Osprey is a newer herbicide that wheat producers might consider, said Kelley. “It was launched last year, but since we had so few wheat acres, few producers were in a position to try it. It's an excellent ryegrass herbicide and does a pretty good job controlling some broadleaf winter weeds like henbit, chickweed and bluegrass.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com