Like a house guest overstaying his welcome, winter rains arrived in the Delta and have yet to depart. As a result, Extension specialists say the wheat crop is suffering and farmers are gambling a bit when planting corn.

Worst hit is the Louisiana wheat crop. “We're in a good news/bad news situation down here. The good news is we haven't seen a lot of disease problems yet this spring. Our wheat breeder has looked at his lines and everything looks clean so far,” says Louisiana Extension wheat specialist Ed Twidwell.

The bad news is the state lost a fair amount of wheat acreage this winter due to too much rainfall. Louisiana is known for having a lot of rain in November and December and that reputation was upheld last year, says Twidwell.

“People planted the first of November. In many cases the crop came up allright, but was then drowned out. A fair number of producers simply abandoned their fields. The exact acreage lost isn't available, but it's sizable. I think lost acreage is probably between 20,000 and 30,000 acres. USDA had our planted acres at around 110,000. So the lost acreage was quite a chunk.”

Twidwell says the northeast part of the state is better off than south of Alexandria. There were problems around Vidalia and Harrisonburg with a lot of water.

“We had a cold, wet winter. It really hasn't warmed up yet, either. We get a few days in the upper 60s and then it'll cool back down into the 50s. The wheat hasn't had a chance to kick in and start growing in earnest yet.”

There were also acres that farmers intended to plant in wheat but weren't able to. It was very dry through October. Then November brought heavy rains that still haven't quit.

“A lot of farmers were caught waiting to plant because it was too dry and then weren't able to get into the fields because it got too wet. This situation is evident around New Roads and several other areas. Normally, there's quite a bit of wheat planted around there, but many acres didn't go in,” says Twidwell.

Tennessee

Wheat and cotton Extension specialist Paulus Shelby says Tennessee's wheat was a bit slow taking off. The cold snaps experienced were in the crop's favor, though.

“We've been fertilizing quite a bit recently. Our nitrogen is going on in a pretty timely fashion. We got down to about 15 degrees at the beginning of the last week of March. Some of the older wheat might have gotten a bit damaged by that. But the crop on the station isn't showing any ill effects of that temperature drop yet. Wheat is hearty.

“Over the years, I've noticed that the years we have better-than-normal yields are those when we have a drier spring. Unlike the rest of the Delta, we've been pretty dry this spring. We can plow right now without trouble. If history holds, we should have a really good wheat crop.”

One prediction Shelby makes for Tennessee cotton: farmers will again plant the stacked gene varieties big-time. The pecking order will likely be: stacked gene, Roundup-Ready varieties followed by conventionals. Shelby sees straight Bollgard varieties as bringing up the rear.

“We've been in this trend for a while and in talking to seed dealers, it appears nothing is changing the trend. Last year, we had over 50 percent of our cotton in Paymaster 1218 — a stacked gene. Some 80 percent of our entire crop was stacked gene.

“Up here, we like early varieties. The Paymaster 1218 fills that requirement. Paymaster varieties have always done well here.

“Another thing is we may see bronze wilt in varieties — including 1218 — but I've yet to come across a field where I thought it reduced yield. We've had it show up in county variety tests and the 1218 and 1220 were still the best varieties.”

Arkansas

In the southwest and southeast corners of Arkansas, the wheat crop has had a rough go, says Arkansas Extension wheat and corn specialist William Johnson.

“The rains hurt us some down there. There are farmers there putting out additional fertilizer because in some areas during a 10-day period they had over 10 inches of rain. Some of our farmers got into the same situation they're experiencing in Louisiana. They were waiting for rain and when it showed up, it never left. With wheat, that isn't the best idea. You plant the wheat into the dust and wait for the rain to bring it up.”

The rest of the state looks okay, says Johnson, but the crop just doesn't look as good as it should.

“The wheat in the state isn't even, it's a little ratty. I was in Dewitt, Ark., a few days ago and there weren't any fields there that looked great. Normally, that area produces field after field of beautiful wheat. Not so this year.”

Arkansas needs some 70- and 80-degree weather. So far, there have been two days of “decent growing weather,” in Johnson's opinion.

“I got a call today from a colleague who was planting a corn verification field. He said while they were planting, it started to sleet! But we're planting the heck out of corn. In northeast and central Arkansas, corn is going into the ground in a major way.”

Johnson says there's some septoria in the lower half of the state's wheat. And scouts are starting to see some pretty serious virus symptoms.

“So far, the viruses have been seen in isolated areas, but we expected to see some of this with the weather. But if we can get warmer weather in, the symptoms should go away.

“Something (Arkansas Extension plant pathologist) Rick Cartwright has been trying to get the word out on is stripe rust showing up in Texas. If the wind blows out of the southwest for any period, it'll show up here because the conditions are exactly what stripe rust is looking for.”

If the southwest winds come, symptoms will show up in Arkansas within a week or so, says Johnson. Last year, stripe rust moved three or four counties per week.

Mississippi

During the last week of March, Mississippi's corn crop planting was well under way — especially in the Delta.

“We've made good progress. The hills got a rainfall that the Delta missed, so they're just a step behind in corn planting,” says Mississippi Extension corn and wheat specialist Erick Larson.

However, planting into such conditions has Larson concerned. “Planting into such cool soil temperatures has me worried. I was just in the field and the soil was 43 degrees. Corn won't germinate unless the soil is 50 degrees or higher. Unless it warms up significantly, we could have problems with germination and plant establishment. The longer the seed stays out there without really taking off, the more the chance of water-logging, fungus or pest damage.”

As in sister states, Mississippi's wheat doesn't look especially good because of so much rain.

“Our soil has been saturated and oftentimes low areas of fields have standing water that's stunted and sometimes killed the wheat. The wheat is developmentally behind schedule because of the cool weather. But that doesn't concern me nearly as much as the effect of the continuing wet conditions. We haven't seen any stripe rust yet, but if this weather continues we could.”

Mississippi, like Louisiana, will also see its fair share of abandoned wheat acres, says Larson.

“We're going to have some of that across the state. Low-lying fields are in trouble because of the excessive rainfall.”


e-mail: david_bennett@intertec.com