Steve Harrison expects Louisiana wheat acres to at least double in 2007.

“A lot of talk around here is about the lack of seed from the good varieties,” says the LSU AgCenter wheat breeder. “You know, this isn’t due to a lack of availability of good varieties. It’s the double, or even triple, demand. Regardless, there will definitely be a shortage of seed of the elite half dozen, or so, varieties.”

Harrison, one of those driving the recent small grains breeding collaboration — called SUNGRAINS (Southeastern UNiversity GRAINS) — with other Southern universities, says he’s heard much the same from breeders in other states.

“According to everything I’ve seen and heard on the grapevine I believe, across the board, we’ll see significant wheat acreage increases. That story is pretty much the same across the South.”

Of course, much depends on a “reasonable” planting season. In Louisiana, weather at planting remains “the big factor. If conditions are normal and growers have the chance to get in the field, Louisiana wheat acres will likely double this fall. And the acreage may end up being more than that.

“We begin planting wheat in the north — say, in the Monroe/Shreveport area — in early October. In south Louisiana, planting won’t start until early November. As long as the fields are dry enough to get across, we can plant there until mid-December.”

New varieties

Louisiana had a good wheat harvest season in 2006 that allowed Harrison to collect good data on his many tests. LSU also released one wheat variety and one oat variety.

“That makes five wheat and five oat varieties released since 1997. The new oat will be Horizon 270 marketed by Plantation Seeds out of Georgia which was tested as LA966-270.

“The new wheat will be marketed by Regan and Massey out of Ponchatoula, La. It was our LA95135. I’m not sure what it will be named when made available to growers.

“It’s a good soft red winter wheat with good yields, excellent test weight, and excellent resistance to stripe rust and leaf rust. It’s done well in Louisiana trials — it’s the fifth highest-yielding wheat based on two-year averages. It has also done very well in east Texas.”

Both of the new releases are part of the SUNGRAINS program (to find out more see http://deltafarmpress.com/mag/farming_breeding_programs_regional/index.html). There have been several other releases.

“The University of Georgia has released a wheat that will be marketed by UniSouth Genetics. USG3295 will be a very good wheat for Louisiana and the entire Southeast.

Another one from Georgia will be marketed as AGS 2010. That will also be a good option for the entire region.”

LSU released two wheat varieties last year: AGS2060 and Terral LA482. Those will be available for growers in 2007. Those were, respectively, the third highest and highest-yielding varieties in the state for 2006.

“So many very good-looking lines coming. Growers will have even more good variety choices next summer. This year, those newer varieties are a bit limited. By next fall, there will be more commercially available.”

The SUNGRAINS wheat breeding program, only begun last year, “is working well. I believe SUNGRAINS will be driven by North Carolina State University, the University of Georgia, and the LSU AgCenter. Clemson has a revitalized program and will also come on line with a strong program.”

Advice

In the run up to fall, Harrison has taken many calls from producers preparing to plant wheat again. What advice has he given?

• Book seed. “You need to book seed for the best varieties you can. And you need to do that now. You need to spread your risk by planting several varieties.”

• Slow down. “Don’t get in too much of a hurry to plant. Because of disease and insect problems, you’re better off planting late than planting too early. The weather needs to have cooled off before planting wheat.”

• Prep fields. “Go ahead and get fields ready, spray Roundup on any weeds, and cut surface drainage. But hold off on planting.”

• When choosing a variety, don’t pinch pennies. “Don’t allow the cost of a bushel of seed make your variety choice. In the past, many growers have done that. They’ll buy an $8 bag of seed over a $10 bag. That may save a few hundred dollars up front but it’ll cost thousands of dollars on the back end. Pick the best varieties available, not the cheapest.”

• Pay attention to soil tests and make sure adequate P and K is available. “With wheat, you don’t need much nitrogen up front. You want to hold the majority of nitrogen until spring, depending on whether you’re following soybeans or corn.”

Disease and insects

Aphids are the main reason Harrison would rather see wheat planted a bit later.

“Aphids can be a problem if you plant too early. Heavy aphid pressure can cause two things. First, they hurt the plant physically through feeding. But, more importantly, they carry the barley yellow dwarf (BYD) virus.”

The earlier you plant, the more likely BYD will show up in the spring. The disease can cut yields tremendously.

“If we have prolonged warm spells after wheat is planted in the fall, it might be a good idea to scout for aphids. Consult a good entomologist and determine whether it’s economical to apply a systemic insecticide. There are products available to control aphids. Whether using them is economical hinges on how early the wheat was planted and how intense the infestations are.”

The same is true for Hessian fly.

“We haven’t had much of Hessian fly problem in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas. But it has popped up occasionally.

“That pest is most likely to be seen with early fall planting. The Hessian fly lays eggs when the weather is warm. Once it cools off, they stop laying and chances of the problem decrease. A field that’s hit with the problem can look like it’s been through heavy hail.”

e-mail: dbennett@farmpress.com