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Wheat muddles through winter rains, needs sun
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's winter wheat has contended with wet conditions since planting season last fall, but plants are reaching a critical need for drier fields in April.
Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said fields have had plenty of moisture since an unseasonably wet August, so any rains received this year have caused water-logged conditions.
"Some fields experienced early stand losses associated with flooding. The conditions during March stunted vegetative development and are likely to reduce yield potential," Larson said. "Excessive rains during April will significantly reduce yields even more. At this stage, April rains have more destructive potential than earlier rains."
Extension agricultural agent Don Respess said a 10-inch rain shortly after planting caused some fields to be abandoned in Bolivar County. He said county wheat acreage remains near 40,000 acres, which is where it has been for several years. In addition to the recent record yields, wheat appeals to growers because it produces income early in the season when farmers could really use it.
"Wheat is a good cash crop in May and June, but many dryland growers aren't using it to double-crop with soybeans like they once did," Respess said. "Soybean prices have been so low, there has not been as much incentive to plant beans on dryland ground behind wheat."
Coahoma County agricultural agent Ann Ruscoe said wheat has been running behind schedule after a rough start, but fertilizer applications have helped the crop make quicker progress.
"We're just approaching the time when growers need to be scouting their fields actively for diseases so they can respond quickly before significant yield damage occurs," Ruscoe said.
According to information from the Mississippi Agricultural Statistics Service, Mississippi growers averaged 52 bushels per acre on 225,000 acres last year. 2001 was the second consecutive year average wheat yields were over 50 bushels per acre. This year, growers have planted 220,000 acres. Nationally, growers have planted 41.1 million acres, the lowest since 1971.