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Arkansas planting more wheat than expected

Until recently, William Johnson thought Arkansas farmers would plant about 1 million acres of winter wheat. Now, it looks as if fall planting is getting a boost from favorable weather and the planted acreage will go higher.

"We were expecting about a million acres, but because of the dry weather and forecast for no rain in the near future, we’re seeing more acres being planted than anticipated," said Johnson, wheat specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

"Some crop consultants are indicating that some cotton acres are being switched to wheat because cotton prices are so low."

Johnson had worried that harvested rice fields would be too wet for wheat planting, but they are "drying out nicely."

The ground moisture is adequate to allow wheat seed to germinate, which has not been the case during recent Arkansas falls, Johnson said. The temperature is also warm enough to get the crop off to a good start.

An estimated 100,000 acres of early-planted wheat had to be replanted after a "huge rainfall" in early October, according to Johnson. About 6 inches of rain fell over about three days, wiping out about half of the state’s recently planted wheat.

"A lot of early-planted wheat had been planted the first week or so in October behind Group IV soybeans and corn. After the rain, farmers had to go back in and replant poorly drained fields." That was especially true around DeWitt, Ark., he said.

"Cullum Seed at Fisher (Craighead County) said they had a tremendous run on seed."

The Extension specialist noted that farmers are trying out new seed varieties this year.

"Pioneer has a couple of varieties that are a little higher yielding. Some Arkansas dealers, Cullum, Delta King and Dixie have new varieties, and they look like they’ll do a pretty good job for farmers.

"It looks like farmers are beginning to replace some of the old bread-and-butter varieties with some newer varieties that have a little better yield potential."

Farmers this season will continue to face weed problems from ryegrass that has become resistant to traditional herbicides. Johnson said, "It has become a lot more of a problem, especially in areas where they plant wheat year after year."

Farmers are using Sencor to combat the problem, but Johnson warns that they must plant wheat varieties that are tolerant to Sencor. He said he is screening varieties for tolerance to Sencor.

"Everything we’re doing is applied research, so we hope to have some results pretty quickly for farmers," Johnson said. The research is funded by the Arkansas Wheat Promotion Board.

The wheat specialist advised farmers in north Arkansas who intend to plant wheat in November to also put out nitrogen. Farmers in southeast Arkansas planting after Nov. 15 need to put out nitrogen and increase the seeding rate by about 10 to 15 percent.

Johnson and at least one Arkansas economist say there are positive indications for farmers in the marketplace.

As of Nov. 1, December wheat futures were $2.89 a bushel, about 30 cents above what it was Sept. 21, said Gene Martin, economist for the Arkansas Farm Bureau Federation. What farmers actually receive is usually somewhat less than the futures price, depending on the buyer’s costs.

By comparison, the average price for wheat last season was $2.62. The current futures price is still not what farmers would like to receive, Martin said, adding that for years they were able to expect prices in the range of $3.25 to $3.50 a bushel.

Martin attributed the recent price boost to declining world stocks. He expects additional increases, noting that traditionally there is an upturn in wheat prices between November and February.

Lamar James is an Extension communications specialist with the University of Arkansas.

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