It turns out that wheat — considered one of the “easiest” crops to grow — isn't all that easy after all. With a lot of rain falling on the state, much of Arkansas wheat planting has been delayed.

“In northeast Arkansas, the optimum planting window will shut on Nov. 1. After that date, seeding rates of 3 to 3.5 bushels per acre will be required to be successful. And nitrogen applications of 40 pounds per acre will be needed to promote growth,” says William Johnson, Arkansas Extension wheat specialist.

What late planting could amount to, says Johnson, is an increase in production costs of almost $25 per acre ($10 to $15 per acre for seed and $8 per acre for nitrogen fertilizer). To pay for that extra expense a 7 bushels per acre yield bump will be needed.

In central and southern Arkansas, the planting window is open through mid-to-late November. “Those areas can still make excellent wheat without the additional cost that could be realized in northeast Arkansas.”

Some 250,000 acres of wheat is normally planted behind rice in the state. Johnson estimates that wheat planting in those fields will be down 70 percent, as conditions will likely remain too wet to plant.

If the weather had cooperated this fall, Arkansas would likely have planted between 1.5 million and 1.8 million acres of wheat. It's believed that number will now be around 1.3 million acres.

Seed shortages are problematic and one reason for that is farmers saved very little seed from the 2002 harvest. Johnson thinks over 60 percent of all wheat planting in state last year was from bin run seed. This year, he estimates that less than 20 percent of the crop will be farm-saved seed.

But bin run seed isn't a cure-all, he says. It can, in fact, “be a two-headed dragon. On one hand, producers can save a lot of money. On the other hand, these seeds can have germination problems and can contain weed seed (such as ryegrass) and loose smut, a seedborne disease.”

By not using certified seed, producers run major risks. High-quality, disease-free seed with good germination are a must for successful wheat production. Certified wheat seed has been checked by the Arkansas State Plant Board and greatly reduces the chances that producers take from unloading seed from a grain bin, says Johnson. By going with the extra expense for certified seed, a farmer can save big money down the road.

“Ryegrass was as bad in Arkansas as I've ever seen. For the most part, the ryegrass likely came from bin run seed that wasn't cleaned. That means farmers probably spent $10 to $20 per acre on Hoelon to control it.”

Further, it takes a while to get rid of ryegrass, so the headaches can extend over several growing seasons.

“With the higher cost of seed, producers will save more seed to plant next year. Hopefully, ryegrass will be 100 percent controlled, no loose smut will occur and farmers will submit seed samples for a germination test. Saved seed needs to perform as well as certified seed.”

And on top of all that, Johnson says, farmers must stay abreast of “seed law regulations and the legalities associated with saving seed.”


e-mail: dbennett@primediabusiness.com.