Arkansas farmers have to be pleased as their combines roll over wheat fields, according to Jason Kelley.

Favorable factors have combined to make this an above-average crop, with few hassles during the growing season and with the promise of a nice paycheck, said Kelley, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

He estimates the 375,000-acre crop will produce a statewide average yield of 55 bushels, only one away from last year’s record. The 10-year average statewide yield is 51 bushels.

Farmers harvested 160,000 acres of wheat last year. In the fall, they upped the acreage, aided by dry planting weather, Kelley said.

Kelley said much of the Arkansas wheat crop will be exported. Wheat is the most important human food grain and ranks second in total production as a cereal crop behind maize.

“The crop looks good, the quality is good and the price is good,” Kelley said. The average selling price last year was $3.30. Some farmers had booked wheat at more than $4 for this crop. In many cases, farmers didn’t incur many input costs. Not much money was spent for fungicides or herbicides.

“That spells success to me,” Kelley said. “This will help farmers with cash flow. They’ll have money available to help pay for inputs to other crops.

“Some farmers are already booking wheat for next year. A few farmers are even booking wheat for 2008. All indications are there will be a lot more wheat planted this coming year.”

The specialist said this crop matured earlier than last year’s crop. Farmers began harvesting in south Arkansas May 18. That’s at least a week ahead of last year, he said. Most varieties began heading a week to 10 days ahead of last year.

“There’s wheat ready for harvesting as far north as the Missouri border,” Kelley said. If the weather cooperates, farmers could have the harvest wrapped up by the middle of June.

“We’re hearing that a lot of wheat in south Arkansas is commonly cutting 60 to 70 bushels an acre,” Kelley said. “In some university wheat verification fields, we’re averaging close to 75 bushels. Around Stuttgart, we’re hearing unconfirmed reports of yields of about 100 bushels an acre.

“Quality has been good, and test weights (a measurement of quality) have been up,” he said.

Kelley said the reason for the good yields is two-fold.

Many producers planted wheat on their best ground in an attempt to make more money, he said. Not much wheat was planted on marginal ground, which tends to bring a farm’s overall yield down. The other reason was a generally dry winter.

It wasn’t, however, all good news this year. Some farmers had problems.

“We have had areas in northeast counties where it appears the wheat experienced freeze damage, making it hard for water to move through a plant. That, coupled with dry weather, reduced yields in several fields. In some areas, the damaged wheat died.”