Winter wheat planting on schedule; crop looks good so far

ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Fall planting of the state’s winter wheat crop is on schedule, and early-season growth looks good in fields planted so far.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Oct. 27 report, 28 percent of the state’s expected wheat crop had been planted. Unlike spring, when all row crops were well behind schedule, this estimate puts wheat exactly on track with the five-year average.

Winter wheat is not a major row crop in Mississippi, but it has seen acreage increases in recent years. Earlier this year, Mississippi producers harvested more than 400,000 acres of wheat that had been planted last fall.

Brian Williams, Mississippi State University Extension agricultural economist, said the most recent projection is that Mississippi will have slightly more wheat acres this year. However, this forecast is not based on official USDA estimates.

“I think the increase in winter wheat in Mississippi is mostly price driven,” Williams said. “Throughout fall and late summer, wheat prices have held strong relative to corn and soybean prices.

“Another factor is that soybeans can be double-cropped with wheat. Most analysts are expecting a larger soybean crop next year, so I think it is natural to expect some of next summer’s soybean acres to be planted to wheat this fall,” he said.

Williams said Mississippi cash wheat prices were trading near $7 per bushel in late May to early June. Wheat prices slid downward for much of the summer before bottoming out in early September.

“Looking ahead, the July 2014 futures contract is currently trading around $6.90 per bushel, but prices have been stumbling the last week or so on news of favorable planting progress and crop conditions,” he said.

Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said wheat in the state is usually double-cropped with soybeans or sorghum. Some farmers plant wheat in the winter to allow themselves time to do dirt work or field improvements in the late summer and still produce a crop during the spring.

“Growing wheat brings diversity to a farming operation,” Larson said. “It requires labor at a time when other crops do not, and it generates income during the summer before other crops have been harvested.”

Planting starts in mid-October in north Mississippi and continues through mid-December in coastal counties. Despite the wide planting window, harvest usually begins by the last week of May to the first week of June.

Once wheat emerges in the fall and reaches a height of just a few inches, it goes dormant in cooler weather.

“Wheat can deal with normal winter conditions quite readily, but late-spring freezes can be catastrophic,” Larson said. “Once it breaks dormancy and starts growing, it is susceptible to freeze. If we get a freeze in late spring, it can kill the entire head and render the crop useless.”

Craig Hankins, Extension agent in Bolivar County, said area growers are still trying to harvest soybeans on the land where they intend to plant wheat later this year.

“Now is the time to be planting, but folks are still in the field with beans,” he said.

In 2012, Bolivar County was the state’s top wheat producer, with 46,000 acres harvested. The county’s wheat crop dropped to about 40,000 acres in 2013, but planting could reach 50,000 acres this fall, Hankins predicted.

“I think the folks who want to plant wheat will get it in,” Hankins said.

 

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