Arkansas’ wheat acreage may fall to near 2006 levels because of problems associated with this year’s higher than normal rainfall and low commodity prices, according to an agricultural economist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.

“Wheat is no different than the row crops battered by this year’s unusual weather conditions,” said Scott Stiles, Extension economist/risk management.

The planting window for wheat opens in October, said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the UA Division of Agriculture. Kelley was en route to Keiser on Tuesday to observe the corn harvest at the Northeast Arkansas Research and Extension Center.

Growers were working hard the week of Sept. 28 to capitalize on a rare stretch of sunshine and dry weather to clear the fields of soybeans, rice and corn before they can think about winter wheat.

“There are probably six to seven weeks that we can plant wheat,” Kelley said. “Right now, they’ve got soybeans and rice on their minds, but here in two to three weeks when we get into the prime planting window and the ground dries out, they’ll be out there.”

Commodity prices for soft red winter wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade on June 1 stood at $7.60 a bushel, but at mid-week closed below $5 before rising to $5.20 on Sept. 24.

The new crop (2010) basis for wheat shipped out of a White River or Mississippi River port is roughly 80 cents to $1 a bushel below the Sept. 24 quote, Stiles said.

The economic picture for wheat producers had improved, Stiles said, with fertilizer prices falling to about half of what they were last year and reducing production costs.

“That sounds good, but it was offset by the drop in commodity prices,” he added.

As an example, Stiles said a wheat producer renting his land for one-fourth of the crop must harvest above average yields just to break even.

Commodity prices, the late harvest of other crops planted in a planned rotation with wheat and a delayed planting window for the next wheat crop will cause many producers to cut back on the number of acres planted in wheat this fall, the economist said.

Wheat producers harvested 980,000 acres in 2008, Stiles said, and the acreage fell by more than half this year to 420,000 acres. Farmers planted 365,000 acres in wheat in 2006 and harvested 305,000 acres, he said, quoting National Agricultural Statistics Service data.

Arkansas and Crittenden counties historically have been the state’s No. 1 and No. 2 winter wheat counties in terms of acreage, Kelley said.

Fungus that developed in some parts of the state this year because of wet conditions also affected the 2009 wheat harvest, reducing yields from 58 bushes an acre in 2008 to 47 bushels this year, Stiles added.

Egypt and Mexico, two major customers for Arkansas’ soft red winter wheat, can purchase the wheat on world markets below U.S. commodity prices because of higher yields in other major wheat producing countries.

“It’s real competitive in the international markets,” Stiles said.

“Bad memories seem to linger and influence planting,” Stiles said of the projected lower wheat production numbers for 2010.