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Arkansas wheat harvest 'a mess'

“Overall, Arkansas’ wheat crop and harvest just isn’t looking good,” says Jeremy Ross, Arkansas Extension verification program coordinator. “In fact, it’s getting more and more ugly. By this time last year, we were within sight of the harvesting finish line. And don’t forget that last year was a bad year – we had rains wipe out 200,000 acres.”

Ross expects some 550,000 acres of wheat to be harvested in Arkansas – the lowest total in nearly 20 years. Adding to the dire forecast, earlier this week the USDA categorized only 8 percent of the state’s wheat as “excellent.”

Ross says pockets of fields south of I-40 have some good wheat. But he says it would be generous to describe the wheat north of I-40 as “rough.”

“I’m hoping we can get a break from the rain for the next five or six days. We need a break in the clouds to get ground dried up and this wheat harvested before things go very badly, very quick. If the current pattern of daily showers keeps up for another week, we’re going to be in trouble. The extended forecast looks like it’ll start drying up this weekend. If it doesn’t, major problems are coming.”

In many areas, it’s impossible to get into fields.

“The ground is so saturated in places that it won’t hold combines up,” says Trey Reaper, Arkansas Extension area agronomist. “The longer the wheat sits out there, the worse the problems will be. Other than warm, dry weather there’s nothing good that can happen from here on. The wheat crop is starting to lodge, starting to fall down and test weights are dropping. We’ve got to get this crop out as quick as we can.”

Reaper says even if producers could get into fields, the grain has a moisture content that’s too high for harvest. The wheat won’t thrash well, won’t separate from the heads and farmers are looking at major dockage if they take it in.

“The higher the moisture, the lower the test weight, the more dockage you face,” says Reaper. “I spoke with Chris Tingle (Arkansas Extension soybean specialist) this morning, and he said a farmer told him that he’d carried his wheat to the elevator and was docked 25 percent. That dockage was on just about every load he carried in.”

Reaper says the verification fields he’s worked in have faced the same problems as fields everywhere else.

“About the time we were ready to jump in and harvest, the rain set in and hasn’t let up. I’ve got two verification fields and part of a third that we’ve got left to harvest. The fields that have been harvested seem to have OK yields. Actually, yields in the mid-70’s aren’t unheard of.”

Ross has heard similar yield numbers. Before the latest series of rains hit, “we were hearing of some pretty good yields – from 50 bushels to 80 bushels. Farmers in Ashley County (in the southeast corner of Arkansas) said they were cutting some of the best wheat they’d ever grown. But all season they were drier than other areas of the state.”

Ross believes around 50 percent of Arkansas’ wheat crop is still in the field

And with so much wheat left to get out, the planting of double-crop soybeans becomes an issue. Regarding that issue, Ross spoke with Tingle on June 17.

“He said Arkansas is at around 20 percent double-crop soybeans planted,” Ross notes. “That means we’re way behind. We don’t recommend planting soybeans after, say, the first week of July. But if things keep on the current path, I’m sure some fields will have to be planted later than that.”

As wet as the ground and straw is, when it does come time to plant double-crop soybeans, farmers should pay close attention to their no-till drills’ penetration, says Reaper.

“Make sure the wheat stubble is gotten through. It’s very important that the stalks are dried out, that drills can penetrate and coulters can do their job.”

Both Ross and Reaper say the rumblings about the poor crop have begun.

“I was talking with (a prominent farmer in eastern Arkansas) and he said he’s 10 bushels off his norm,” says Ross. “Three years ago, he had 1,000 acres of wheat. This year, he planted 600 acres, and next year he said he’s not planting more than 200 acres. It just isn’t worth it to him.”

“I’m hearing similar things in the coffee shop,” says Reaper. “A bad year hits and everyone pledges not to go big with wheat any more. From what my family has experienced on our farm, I worry about the same issues. Of course, for new crop wheat, it’ll all boil down to what the price looks like in July and August. Potential profits go a long way towards making you forget how bad a growing season has been. Maybe that’ll happen here. I know one thing: we’re due a break.”

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