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Hurdles Remain For State's Wheat Crop
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Wheat growers anticipate the final hurdles for this season's crop as they hope for respectable market prices at harvest time in early summer.
Dr. Erick Larson, agronomist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said many wheat growers took advantage of favorable planting conditions last fall despite the poor market forecast.
Wheat prices in October were around $2.40 per bushel, but March prices have rebounded slightly into the $2.50 range.
"The wheat grew for a longer period of time because of last fall's warm temperatures. The wheat didn't enter dormancy until almost Christmas," Larson said. "As a result, wheat planted early was more susceptible to freeze damage in late December and January. When these plants began growing again a month later, their weakened stems couldn't support their weight and they collapsed on the ground."
Larson said some fields experienced lodging problems in up to 20 percent of the plants. Lodging occurs when freeze-damaged stems weaken and bend the plant toward the ground.
"Wheat may develop additional stems that help compensate for damaged stems," he said. "It's too early to predict any yield losses."
John Coccaro, Sharkey County Extension agent, said some low-lying fields are showing signs of stressing and leaching fertilizer from the recent rains.
"Even though we haven't seen any diseases like rust or septoria, growers will need to scout weekly since the crop is so close to the flagleaf stage and heading," Coccaro said.
Washington County agent Jon Ruscoe said saturated soils have been the biggest challenge so far. Because of the lengthy planting season, the crop is in a wide variety of growth stages. Most of the crop appears on target for an average harvest.
"I've seen more water damage than anything else. Excessive water limits the uptake of nitrogen and oxygen and shuts down the root system," Ruscoe said.
Larson said fertility also can play a significant role in final yields.
"Timing nitrogen can be a challenge. If growers wait too long, they could lose some yield potential. If they put it on too early, the plants can be more susceptible to freezing," Larson said.