LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The window for planting wheat in Louisiana is wide. Producers can plant through mid-December without too much trouble.

"We've still got three weeks to get the crop in. The good news is that it appears that fields are drying out some now — at least in the northern half of the state where most wheat is planted. The southern half of the state hasn't dried out enough to plant anything yet. But some wheat planting was being done around Winnsboro, La., earlier this week (of Nov. 18)," says Ed Twidwell, Louisiana Extension wheat and forage specialist.

There are a lot of producers planning to plant "if we can only get the weather to cooperate. If we can keep the rain off fields for a reasonable amount of time, there should be a fair amount of wheat planted. Originally we were guessing the state would have between 250,000 and 300,000 acres of wheat."

That amount was very dependent on getting the soybean crop out of the field. It now appears many soybean fields won't even be harvested. If that's the case, says Twidwell, it means the wheat crop acreage will drop off.

"We should know how much this is going to affect wheat acreage in a couple of weeks."

If wheat planting is delayed through mid-December, producers may want to consider increasing their seeding rates. By planting so late, a lot of the normal tillering that occurs in wheat plants is lost. Increasing the seeding rate helps to compensate for any lost tillering. Twidwell says a 10 percent higher seeding rate should be adequate.

"Our acreage was headed up, and I still think it'll be up some. But unless it gets dry around here quickly, we won't pick up as many acres as we could have. A lot of wheat goes in behind soybeans and if the beans aren't pulled out, wheat acreage will suffer."

On forage, Twidwell says some producers still haven't planted ryegrass for grazing. It's just too wet.

"This week, there are a lot of producers out trying to cut hay. That's very unusual for this time of year. But there hasn't been the opportunity to cut before now. Some of the fields are still a bit soggy. Rutting up forage fields isn't as big a concern as it is with row crop fields. Generally, forage fields heal up a lot faster than row-crop fields."

The hay quality will likely be poor, he says.

"Producers just want to get something in the barn — maybe a few bales to tide them over."

What this means is there's likely to be a shortage of good, high-quality hay this winter. There will probably be some "junky" hay available. But many operations — especially those involved in the dairy industry — "need quality hay and will probably end up paying handsomely for it."

How severe the shortage is will definitely depend on how cold the winter is, says Twidwell. If the winter is mild, most farmers can probably get by with a lot of grazing and less reliance on hay.

"But if it gets wet and bitter cold, there may be a lot of cattle headed to market because in many instances there won't be enough hay stored away to support them."

On a related topic, next April 27-30, the annual meeting of the American Forage and Grassland Council is being held in Lafayette, La. People from all over the country will be coming to discuss all aspects of forages, says Twidwell. More information on the meeting can be found at www.afgc.org.

e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.