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Wheat approaches critical growth stages
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's wheat is approaching a critical, yield-producing stage despite weather challenges on the front end of the growing season.
Erick Larson, small grains specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said growers planted a lot less wheat than expected this year because of two main factors.
"The major factor in reduced wheat acres was the weather last fall. We had abnormally high rainfall from September through November. That prevented farmers from getting into the fields and planting in a timely fashion," Larson said. "Then, while wheat prices were very good in August, they began to decline throughout the late fall. That dampened the spirits for planting wheat later."
Larson said wheat had good growing conditions in March, enabling it to compensate somewhat for the late start. The crop is still slightly behind normal.
John Coccaro, area agronomic crops agent based in Sharkey County, said some farmers were lucky to be able to plant with a grain drill, the recommended method. Others broadcast seed with various equipment and covered the seed with a second trip over the field, while some broadcast the seed from airplanes.
"Without a lot of luck, broadcasting seed with a plane gives less than desired results, and that was the case in this area. When planted with a drill, growers get generally good stands," Coccaro said. "With the other broadcasting methods, stands can be good, fair or poor because the seed are planted at various depths. Some of the farmers with poor stands opted to destroy their wheat before fertilizing the crop in mid-February to early March."
Across the state, some growers also were forced to plant with airplanes after Tropical Storm Isidore and Hurricane Lili. Dennis Reginelli, the area Extension agent based in Noxubee County, said wheat was planted by airplanes on some fields of unharvested soybeans.
"Aerial planting worked surprisingly well, but it's not something growers want to do often," Reginelli said. "Now, we've had problems getting fertilizer out on time due to rains, even when using airplanes where we couldn't get trucks on fields. Total dependance on airplanes certainly drives the cost up." Most of the state's crop will be headed by the middle of April.
Alan Henn, an Extension plant pathologist, said diseases will not become an issue until wheat reaches the flag-leaf and heading stage. At that time, growers will need to watch for powdery mildew and rust.
"Hopefully, growers chose resistant varieties. Since we continue with mostly dry conditions, we could see more barley yellow dwarf virus, which is spread by aphids. If that occurs, growers will see patches of declining plants, especially around the field margins and tree lines. There is not anything you can do about that virus," Henn said.