Mississippi's farmers are beginning the 2008 harvest of 450,000 acres of wheat, the most grown in the state in almost two decades.

In 1990, the state had 600,000 acres of winter wheat, but it was a drastically different time then. Wheat yields averaged 30 bushels per acre, and the 1990 price averaged $3.07 per bushel. At the same time, farm diesel averaged 94 cents per gallon, and urea nitrogen fertilize was $192 per ton.

In 2008, the five-year yield average is just over 53 bushels per acre, and the current crop's price is running around $5.25 per bushel.But before people think of wheat as a pot of gold, they should remember that all cost-of-production factors have skyrocketed in recent years. For example, diesel is running $3.62 per gallon, and urea nitrogen fertilizer is $552 per ton.

Erick Larson, Extension small grains specialist, said good management and productive soils should provide strong wheat yields despite less-than-ideal weather conditions unless fields drained poorly or additional storms complicate harvest. Mississippi fields averaged a record 59 bushels per acre in 2006 and then 56 bushels per acre in 2007.

“Recent storms have caused some wheat to lodge, and that can cause harvesting problems and reduce grain quality as well,” he said. “South Mississippi had significant freeze damage this spring. Some fields were abandoned immediately and others have significant yield losses.”

Larson said farmers battled more than normal disease pressure in wheat because of weather conditions.

“We had very wet conditions from February until harvest. That challenged timing for pesticide applications and caused wheat to be stunted in poorly drained fields,” Larson said.