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Enthusiasm for wheat continues this spring
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi winter wheat growers should be feeling pretty smart about their planting decisions last fall.
Market prices near $6 per bushel encouraged growers to increase acreage from 370,000 in 2006-2007 to a record 400,000 for this year. Late March prices are near $8 per bushel, but they have been as high as $12.50 per bushel since planting time.
Steve Martin, agricultural economist at Mississippi State University's Delta Research and Extension Center in Stoneville, said several factors are working in favor of strong wheat prices.
“Poor growing conditions in the United States and around the world in recent years have resulted in a short supply of wheat,” Martin said. “Wheat also has battled corn and soybeans for acreage. Whenever corn and soybean prices are good in the fall -- which they have been in recent years -- growers are less likely to plant wheat. The difference last fall was that wheat was so much better than it normally is, running about $2 more per bushel than the year before.”
Erick Larson, small grains specialist with MSU's Extension Service, said growers certainly hope to avoid a repeat of last year's late-season freeze that damaged yields in north Mississippi. Exceptional yields below the freeze line helped growers produce an average of 56 bushels per acre in 2007, just short of the record average of 59 bushels set the previous year.
“Light frosts have caused minimal damage so far this year because wheat was at a stage when it could tolerate the temperatures,” Larson said. “As wheat gets closer to heading, freezing could result in more damage like last year's late freeze caused.”
Unlike last spring's dry conditions, Mississippi's wheat has had too much rain in 2008.
“Saturated fields have stunted growth in some wheat and delayed applications of fertilizer and herbicides. If future conditions are good, fields should be able to make up for the delays as the season progresses,” he said.
Warren County Extension director John Coccaro said localized flooding is occurring in some fields near the Mississippi River and will be more catastrophic than a late freeze.
“Some fields had about 6 inches of flood waters on them on March 21. They probably will end up with 3 to 5 feet, and the plants won't be able to survive that,” Coccaro said. “The risk of flooding in those fields is always high, so most of those growers self-insure, meaning they do not pay the high premiums for crop insurance. They will have to absorb those losses.”
As other fields have dried out, growers are beginning to scout for disease development in the next few weeks and making fungicide applications when necessary.
Tom Allen, Extension plant pathologist in the Delta, said growers are starting to see more septoria and tan spot in older wheat throughout the Delta.
“Those diseases are usually connected to wet, humid weather, so drier conditions should help to minimize further development,” Allen said. “Very low levels of rust could be expected in most fields in the lower canopy, but typically not at levels requiring treatment.”
Allen said most wheat is looking healthy, but some is showing nutrient stress because of the wet soils.