The number of different wheat varieties available today can be overwhelming. Last year the University of Arkansas Wheat Performance Trial contained 92 varieties and experimental lines.

Robert Bacon, John Kelley and Charlie Parsons conduct some of the best wheat variety trials in the nation. These trials provide yield data, grain quality data, lodging scores, winterkill potential and disease reactions. Scientists from both the research and Extension arms of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture evaluate the plots during the production season.

Field days and technology transfer meetings at testing sites allow rapid distribution of the most up-to-date production techniques available to Mid-South growers.

A wheat page at the University of Arkansas Website helps producers select varieties. The information can be accessed atWheat Update 2002 in the Department of Crops, Soils and Environmental Science.

The Mid-South is very fortunate to have many active breeding programs. Public breeding programs in Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana and Virginia release wheat lines, but the University of Arkansas is the only university that consistently releases public varieties through the foundation seed program.

Most public institutions sell their lines to various marketing groups and private companies. In turn, the origin of a variety is difficult to track.

Several private breeding programs also exist in the Mid-South, including AgriPro, NK Coker, Pioneer, and Terral.

In the past few years, many seedsmen have purchased varieties across the soft-red winter wheat growing region. Many of these varieties originated from the same selection, thus many private-labeled varieties available today contain the same relative genetic makeup.

Many of these lines are from northern breeding programs in Indiana. Sometimes these varieties will not perform consistently year-to-year since they require longer vernilization periods — more cold weather.

How do you pick a well-adapted high-yielding variety? The best option is to evaluate three-year yield averages at locations near your farm. Also, evaluate varietal performance at locations with a soil type that is the same as yours.

Never select a variety on the basis of one year of performance data from one location.

Yield is a very important selection criterion, but one should also be concerned with varietal characteristics and disease resistance.

Varieties planted early in the optimum planting window should be medium to medium-late maturing. Likewise, early to medium-early varieties should be planted late in the planting window.

On highly fertile soils, lodging is a concern. Several excellent high-yielding varieties with excellent straw strength are available.

Grain quality is another important component to successful production because the market demands good test weights. Severe dockage at delivery can be charged to low-test weight wheat. Several well-adapted varieties consistently produce high-test weight wheat.

On farms that may not be able to harvest wheat timely, this characteristic is extremely important since the wheat kernel may be subjected to several wet/dry cycles due to rainfall. Typically, wheat will loose 0.5 pound of test weight after each wet/dry cycle.

Producers who have empty grain storage facilities during wheat harvest can harvest the grain at moisture levels above 16 percent and dry the grain to 13.5 percent. Dry high-test weight wheat can be delivered to the elevator, resulting in less discount.

Disease resistance is also a very important consideration. In northeast Arkansas, soilborne and spindle streak viruses can be major problems. The only management option is selecting resistant varieties. Gene Milus does an excellent job evaluating the virus resistance of varieties entered into the UA Variety Testing Program.

In terms of stripe and leaf rust, resistant varieties are important in the southern half of Arkansas. Rick Cartwright and Milus emphasize that in two of the last three years, Arkansas has been impacted by a stripe rust epidemic. If a producer is not willing to scout and treat for this disease, a resistant variety is highly recommended.

Several excellent fungicides available today protect wheat from rust and septoria fungi pathogens. In terms of seed treatments, Raxil and Dividend are excellent treatments recommended to reduce overwintering rust, glume blotch and loose smut.

The University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service publishes an annual wheat update. The current publication has been mailed to Arkansas county agents and the publication can also be obtained by visiting the Internet at Wheat Update 2002.

Wheat prices have increased significantly the past few weeks. Arkansas will likely increase plantings from 1 million to 1.3 million acres this planting season. Lower yields and quality in 2002 reduced the volume of available wheat seed, thus producers are encouraged to shop for their seed source in the very near future.

Additionally, these higher wheat prices may not hold throughout the winter, so farmers are encouraged to develop solid marketing plans to maximize their profits.

William Johnson is the Arkansas Extension agronomist for wheat and feed grains.