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Wheat growers holding their breath in early April
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Most of Mississippi's wheat crop is nearly ready to start flowering, and until it does, many producers are wondering if they will have a good harvest or not.
Erick Larson, grains agronomist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the crop is on time and looking good except for one thing.
"We're seeing abnormal symptoms on wheat leaves that we believe may be from glyphosate drift, or off-target movement of herbicides applied to nearby fields this spring," Larson said. "Drift won't kill the wheat tissue, but it may injure the reproductive organs on the head and cause sterility. If this occurs and wheat kernels do not develop, we'll see some major losses."
Larson said most of this potential damage is found in the central Delta. Glyphosate, a common, non-selective herbicide sold under several brand names, is used to remove weeds in preparation for spring planting. If not applied correctly and in favorable weather conditions, it may drift onto neighboring fields with disastrous results.
"Wet conditions during February likely delayed many herbicide applications and may have contributed to the problems apparent now," Larson said. "Some applications may have been made under less-than-ideal conditions."
Until the wheat flowers and the head -- which produces the grain -- emerges, producers with affected wheat will not know to what extent their crop has been damaged. Larson recommended producers delay management decisions if possible until the wheat heads and the flowers emerge.
He said producers who note these symptoms on wheat should contact their Bureau of Plant Industries representative who will investigate the problem and submit samples for analysis. This will help confirm the cause of the problem and may determine negligence.
"The general advice is to be very conservative until you can evaluate the potential damage," Larson said.
Wayne Dulaney, sales and production manager for Dulaney Seed in Coahoma County, said much of what he originally thought was a glyphosate drift problem was actually freeze damage from a brief spell of cold weather in early March.
"Last week the wheat looked really bad, but the heads emerged and they look really good now," Dulaney said. "We might lose a little yield to the freeze, but I don't think it's significant."
Dulaney Seed produces 4,000 acres of wheat in the north Delta for three seed companies.
Mississippi planted an estimated 220,000 acres of wheat, down slightly from the state's long-term average of 250,000 acres. Larson said two years ago, the wheat acreage dropped as wet weather at planting forced changes in planting intentions. This year, part of the continued low acreage was because of the high prices of the summer row crops.
While not as high as some commodities' prices, wheat prices are good. John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist, said July wheat futures are at $4.25 a bushel and cash prices are $3.80 to $4. At this time last year, wheat futures were less than $3 a bushel.