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Arkansas farmers may double wheat acreage

Aided by dry weather, Arkansas farmers have been planting wheat hot and heavy since October began.

“I've talked to a lot of seed companies and retail outlets and most are running low on seed,” said Jason Kelley, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service. “Last year, farmers planted about 375,000 acres of wheat, and this year I think we'll at least double that. So if the weather holds, they'll plant at least 750,000 acres.”

Kelley said that kind of acreage is more in line with what farmers planted 10 years ago. It had dropped off for several reasons, including lower wheat prices, an early soybean production system that worked well and higher nitrogen prices.

But there's a new air of enthusiasm about wheat.

Arkansas farmers are encouraged by excellent prices for wheat and lower costs for nitrogen fertilizer. Fertilizer is about 40 percent of the cost of producing wheat.

“Price is the big driving force,” Kelley said. “Wheat on the Chicago Board of Trade is about $4.74 a bushel for July delivery. The 10-year average selling price is not much more than $3 a bushel. Anytime you can get more than a dollar more per bushel, that's quite a lot of money in your pocket.”

He said the state average yield last year of 61 bushels shattered the previous record of 56 bushels, and that contributed to the enthusiasm to plant wheat this year. If they can have another outstanding crop and take advantage of the high prices, farmers will realize some excellent profits, Kelley said. Prices have been so good many producers have already sold wheat for the next harvest.

Kelley said farmers are also needing wheat to add cash flow in late spring and early summer. Some farmers made no money or lost money on soybeans in 2006.

The wheat specialist said farmers have increased the amount of wheat that is conservation tilled this year. He said they're looking for the quickest way to get their wheat planted and ways to cut back on fuel. However, some fields in the northeast will need to be tilled because of rain a few weeks ago.

Some wheat has already emerged. Kelley cautioned that recent reports of armyworms should concern wheat growers. He advised them to monitor fields for armyworms and treat if they reach the recommended treatment level.

In November, farmers will treat the crop with herbicides for ryegrass control.

“A few years ago Hoelon was our go-to herbicide,” said Kelley. “Our specialists have confirmed there is Hoelon-resistant grass in every wheat-producing county of Arkansas.”

Fortunately, he said, farmers have options. Extension weed scientists have identified at least two good options, Osprey and Axial. Osprey has been on the market two or three years and when used correctly, it works exceptionally well, according to Kelley. Axial became available this year.

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