If the weather holds, Arkansas wheat growers may have most of the crop harvested by late May.

“We should be reaching our peak of harvesting activity this week,” said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains specialist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “It looks like good weather for harvest. If we keep up like this, we could be mostly done by this time next week.”

Forecasts for parts of Arkansas covered by the National Weather Service offices in Little Rock, Memphis, Tenn., Jackson, Miss., and Shreveport, La., show hot dry weather through Memorial Day.

Overall, the quality of the wheat has been good and Kelley said that yields range from 40 to 100 bushels per acre. “I rode a combine south of Stuttgart last week that was averaging 75 bushels," he said.

Meanwhile, the National Agricultural Statistics Service was forecasting a 9 percent production decrease in winter wheat from the 2011 season. Acreage was down from 2011’s 520,000 to 480,000 this year. State average yield is forecast at 57 bushels per acre, down from 58 last year. Production is expected to be around 27.3 million bushels, down from 30.1 million last year.

In Chicot County, Extension Staff Chairman Gus Wilson said early yields weren’t looking strong. "We're down from 18 to 25 percent," he said on May 18."The growers are very disappointed. We just had the wrong weather at the wrong time."

The Arkansas winter wheat harvest began very early this year running about two weeks ahead of the normal start time, thanks to a very warm winter and very warm spring.

Meanwhile, wheat prices surged, with the July contract trading as high as $7.22 on May 21, but closed at $7.04.

“That was the highest close since last November,” said Scott Stiles, extension economist with the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Futures were backing off some on (May 22)… Cash bids on the Mississippi River were in the $6.90 to $6.95 range.”

Traders in Chicago remain focused on the possibility that dry conditions may hurt yields around the globe. This could end up forcing some countries to reduce exports. The key areas of concern right now are northern China, southern Russia, and the Ukraine. Production and export estimates from within Russia are beginning to be trimmed. This adds some anticipation for the June USDA supply/demand numbers.

For more information on wheat production contact your county Extension office or visit www.uaex.eduor Arkansascrops.com.