Already waterlogged, Delta soils supporting wheat crops were deluged with additional rainfall the week of March 18. Both Mississippi and Arkansas wheat crops have been adversely affected and corn crops could be next.
Erick Larson, Mississippi Extension corn and wheat specialist, says Mississippi fields face tough times. “This past week or two weren't good for our wheat. A lot of the crop had started jointing and gaining some stem elongation. Wet weather at this time can significantly reduce yield potential. I hope we'll dry out some. But I just got off the phone with someone who said heavy rain is predicted (the week of March 25). That's not good news.”
Most of Mississippi's wheat is grown in the Delta area, says Larson. Many of the soils there aren't rolling and are subject to poor surface drainage. That aggravates the problems caused by wet weather.
“We were already fairly wet before these latest rains arrived. It didn't take a lot of rain to cause the wheat trouble right across the Delta. The subsurface moisture was plentiful and it didn't really matter whether one area got 3 inches of rain versus another area that got 5 inches — it was all affected adversely.”
In mid-March, USDA wheat estimates were released. USDA statisticians assessed the Mississippi wheat crop at less than 50 percent in good to excellent condition.
“Typically, the weather and environmental conditions during April and early May determine wheat yield more than anything else. If we continue to have these adverse conditions, an even more substantial negative impact will be felt,” says Larson.
Mississippi farmers planted “a lot” of corn the first week of March, especially in the Delta region, says Larson. Those fields have since been subjected to the same weather that's taken a toll on the wheat crop. “Not only was it extremely wet, but soil temperatures have been cool. Corn germination has slowed, and stands could fail in some fields.”
Meanwhile, William Johnson, Arkansas Extension corn and wheat specialist, figures 10 percent of the state's wheat has been lost.
“We've got a whole bunch of wheat acres underwater. At least 5,000 acres have been lost. Wheat in the White River and Arkansas River areas will be hard-pressed to make a good crop. The White River is as high as I've seen it.”
Over the last few years many farmers have been planting wheat along the White River, says Johnson. Until this year, luck was with them.
“From Batesville to Clarendon, the ground is waterlogged and the wheat looks rough. After the wheat has been under water for three days, the water takes it completely down.
“On fields with flatter ground, I'd say out of every 40 acres, 5 or 6 acres on the bottom end won't be very good wheat.”
The crop is starting to joint and whenever you start getting these types of problems during the reproductive stage, yield will be hurt, says Johnson.
“April is key. If it's overly wet in April, we won't make any wheat. If we get a bunch of rain (the week of March 25), there will be serious problems. We could lose 20 to 25 percent of the crop.”
One good thing is with the cold weather and rain, rust isn't being seen. About three weeks ago, temperatures got down into the teens and that helped kill the rust, says Johnson.
According to Ed Twidwell, Louisiana wheat is in much better shape than the wheat of its immediate neighbors' to the north and east.
“(Early in March) it got pretty cold here with some freezes. The wheat wasn't at a critical maturity stage, though, so it didn't cause too much trouble. Any stands that were hurt were planted very early. Overall, thus far, this year has been positive for our wheat,” says Twidwell, Louisiana Extension wheat specialist.
The state is seeing some stripe rust, but leaf rust is yet to become a problem.
“We've had some rains, but for sure not nearly as much as folks east of us. It's been humid, though, and we're leery about diseases, especially leaf rust. We should know if those fears are justified by mid-April or so.”