Until recently, William Johnson thought Arkansas farmers would plant about 1 million acres of winter wheat. Now, it looks as if fall planting is getting a boost from favorable weather, says Johnson.

“We were expecting about a million acres, but because of recent dry weather, we’re seeing more acres being planted than anticipated,” said Johnson, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

“Some crop consultants are indicating that some cotton acres are being switched to wheat because cotton prices are so low.”

To the south, Louisiana growers are, for the most part, opting to wait until next spring to begin seeding their 2002 crops.

“There doesn’t appear to be a tremendous amount of interest in planting a winter wheat crop down here for whatever reason,” says Edward Twidwell, Extension wheat specialist with the LSU AgCenter in Baton Rouge.

“We had a dry growing season last year without many disease problems, so I would have thought there would be more interest in planting wheat this year, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. At this point, it doesn’t look like we will exceed the acreage numbers planted in 2000,” he says.

Louisiana producers harvested approximately 185,000 acres of wheat in 2000, with an average yield of 53 bushels per acre. “That was a record yield for the state,” Twidwell says. “I would estimate the state’s wheat acreage to be around 140,000 to 150,000 in 2001.”

The Louisiana Agricultural Statistics Service agency reports that an estimated 110,000 acres of wheat was harvested across the state in 1999, up from less than 100,000 the previous year. Louisiana’s state wheat yield averages approximately 50 bushels per acre, with more than half of the state’s acreage double-cropped with soybeans.

“We don’t have an enormous amount of fluctuation in wheat acreage from year to year. Statewide, our wheat acreage varies, plus or minus, by only about 20,000 acres each year,” Twidwell says. “This year’s relatively low wheat prices are resulting in only lukewarm interest in the crop among Louisiana farmers.”

There doesn’t appear to be any lack of interest in wheat among Mississippi Delta growers.

Extension agent Tommy Baird in Indianola, Miss., says he expects winter wheat acreage across the state will increase substantially in 2001-2002.

“In Sunflower County, we’ll likely see a 25 percent increase in wheat acreage this year. We had 27,800 acres planted last year in the county and we are figuring on at least an additional 10,000 acres this year,” he says. “From what I hear, the same scenario will play out in counties across the state.”

Mississippi growers, he says, need an additional crop to help them over the hump because of the depressed cotton and soybean prices, and wheat may be an option to provide growers with an early return on their investment.

Baird says most of the state’s wheat acreage increase will be double-cropped with irrigated soybeans. “An early wheat crop gives growers a pretty good window of opportunity if they have irrigation capabilities.”

The Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service in Jackson, Miss., says producers across the state harvested 225,000 acres of wheat in the spring of 2001, with an average estimated yield of 52 bushels per acre. That’s a considerable increase from what the state’s wheat farmers have been planting in the past few years. In 1999, Mississippi producers harvested about 160,000 acres of wheat, and before that, less than 150,000 acres of wheat were planted each year statewide.

Wheat growers in Missouri are just off last year’s pace, with 82 percent of the state’s wheat crop seeded and 56 percent emerged by Nov. 4, 2001. That’s four days behind last year, but still within the state’s average planting schedule. The portion of the wheat crop that has already been planted is fairing well, with 62 percent reportedly in good condition and 36 reportedly in fair condition, according to the Missouri Department of Agriculture.

Like their counterparts in Missouri, Arkansas wheat farmers are running a bit behind their 2000 schedule, with 65 percent of the state’s crop planted and 42 percent emerged.

Across the Mid-South region, including Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, Tennessee and Missouri, approximately 2.9 million acres of wheat was planted during the fall of 2000.

Overall, the National Agricultural Statistics Service says U.S. winter wheat production totaled 1.36 billion bushels in 2001, down 13 percent from 2000. With 31.3 million acres yielding an average of 43.5 bushels per acre, it was the lowest number of wheat acres harvested since 1917.

In Arkansas, the ground moisture is adequate to allow wheat seed to germinate and the temperature is also warm enough to get the crop off to a good start.

An estimated 100,000 acres of early planted wheat had to be replanted after a “huge rainfall” in early October, according to Johnson. About 6 inches of rain fell over about three days, wiping out about half of the state’s recently planted wheat.

“A lot of early planted wheat had been planted the first week or so in October behind Group IV soybeans and corn. After the rain, farmers had to go back in and replant poorly drained fields.”

The extension specialist noted that farmers are trying out new seed varieties this year.

“Pioneer has a couple of varieties that are a little higher yielding. Some Arkansas dealers, Cullum, Delta King and Dixie have new varieties, and they look like they’ll do a pretty good job for farmers.

“It looks like farmers are beginning to replace some of the old ‘bread and butter’ varieties with some newer varieties that have a little better yield potential.”

Farmers this season will continue to face weed problems from ryegrass that has become resistant to traditional herbicides. Johnson said, “It has become a lot more of a problem, especially in areas where they plant wheat year after year.”

Farmers are using Sencor to combat the problem, but Johnson warns that they must plant wheat varieties that are tolerant to Sencor. He said he is screening varieties for tolerance to Sencor.

“Everything we’re doing is applied research, so we hope to have some results pretty quickly for farmers,” Johnson said. The Arkansas Wheat Promotion Board funds the research.

The wheat specialist advised farmers in north Arkansas, who intend to plant wheat in November, to also put out nitrogen. Farmers in southeast Arkansas planting after Nov. 15 need to put out nitrogen and increase the seeding rate by about 10 to 15 percent.

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com

Editor’s Note: The Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service contributed to this story.