LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas farmers are gearing up to plant a much larger wheat crop than last year, according to William Johnson, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

Johnson said farmers planted 1 million acres of wheat last fall, but they lost 200,000 acres to flooding in the spring. He estimated that farmers may plant 1.3 to 1.5 million acres of wheat this fall. In a normal year, they would plant 1.1 million to 1.2 million acres.

The increase follows a national trend. The reason?

"Poor wheat production and reduced plantings over the past three years across the nation have led to a price increase recently," Johnson said. "There have also been a few problems in other wheat-producing countries, increasing the worldwide demand. Wheat has risen 40 to 60 cents a bushel over last year."

But there's a downside, Johnson said.

"Increased plantings have increased seed demand. Prior to the price increase, seed prices ranged from $6.50 to $7.50 per 50-pound bag. Since wheat prices increased, seed prices have risen to $8.50 to $12.50 a bag."

Johnson said some farmers need as many as three bags of seed per acre, so the increase in cost adds up to a "pretty hefty chunk of change."

Some of the popular "hot" varieties are already sold out, including Coker 9663, AGS 2000, Pioneer 26R38, Sabbe and Terral 8450.

"Some growers are getting sticker shock from the higher seed prices and indicate they may not plant as much wheat as previously planned because of increased seed cost," Johnson noted. "Good planting weather and economical seed prices could have resulted in 1.8 million acres of wheat planted in Arkansas."

Johnson said recent rains will impact wheat planting. He said wheat planted on rice ground after harvest could be lost to the rains. Craighead, Poinsett and Cross counties are at risk because farmers in those counties typically plant a considerable amount of wheat after rice, he said.

Farmers in northeast Arkansas are still trying to get rice out. Many of these fields are already wet and rutted. In most years, the Extension specialist said, rutted rice fields don't dry out in time to prepare fields for wheat planting.

"I would estimate we'll have 100,000 acres in this condition," said Johnson.

Johnson said that since farmers across the United States are planting more wheat, this will undoubtedly result in lower wheat prices at harvest in June. He encouraged producers to look at their current marketing plans for wheat and take advantage of higher prices while they exist.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.