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The consequences of a wet fall

Prolonged rains that arrived in October had consequences beyond extending harvest season. One such consequence: the Arkansas wheat crop.

“The issue isn’t what I’m seeing but what I’m not seeing,” said Jason Kelley, the state’s Extension wheat specialist. “Most of the state was dry from the end of August through the first week of October. Then, it started raining. A lot of our growers were in the midst of soybean and rice harvest. Things were rolling along beautifully and we thought it wouldn’t be a problem getting wheat planted.”

It was so dry, in fact, that many fields to be planted in wheat needed rain to gain a decent seedbed. Ground was rather cloddy and growers were waiting on a shower to loosen those clods.

“Unfortunately, when that shower showed up, it never left,” said Kelley. “There was some wheat dusted in before the rains. That will be our best wheat in the state, by far.

“Once it did begin raining, there were a couple of breaks in the clouds — half days or a day, maybe — where we thought we’d get into our best drained soils. But then it would rain again. A lot of the fields that were planted are still trying to come up. It isn’t pretty.”

Acreage plummets

Visiting with “a lot” of growers, Kelley realized wheat acreage had plummeted in the state. “Everyone I speak with tells me they’re down 80 percent to 90 percent of the normal wheat acres they plant. Normally, we’re around 1 million acres. Off that, I’m guessing we’re in the neighborhood of 150,000 acres.

“A lot of people are shocked at that, but I’m telling you the wheat situation is bleak. A 50 percent drop would have been bad enough. But things are so rotten right now that we’d take a 50 percent drop and call that progress!”

The dearth of wheat opens up acreage for other crops. What does Kelley think this will translate into for next season?

“There just aren’t many happy scenarios. There are dilemmas in almost any direction you turn. Before the Asian soybean rust hit, a lot of those acres would have gone to soybeans. They still may, but producers have to be nervous planting beans.

“Before it was impossible to get wheat planted, many farmers told me they wouldn’t be planting corn. They weren’t willing to pay the higher nitrogen prices. Now, some are changing their minds and I think, because of how this has shaken out, we’ll have as much corn as we had last season, maybe more.”

Long-time wheat farmer

Before the fall rains began in earnest, Tim Smith got “around” 700 acres of cover-crop wheat planted.

“We no-tilled it into corn stubble,” said the manager of Martin Farms, near Holly Grove, Ark. “After it rained, it came up and looks very good.

“As far as wheat for harvest, though, we got none planted. None. To be honest, I thought we’d have a bunch of wheat. We were out harvesting beans and the rains showed up and wheat plans just fell apart. You know, we even had the fertilizer put out in anticipation of planting wheat and never had the chance to put seed out. So I’ve gone from a norm of 900 acres of wheat to zero this year.”

On the acres usually in wheat, Smith likely will plant soybeans or corn. “If we do go with corn, fertilizer prices won’t hit us too badly. Mid-summer, I bought enough nitrogen for next year. That was the best money I’ve ever spent. We’ve had to take it in early, but that’s a minor issue.”

If he does plant soybeans, the Asian soybean rust threat is pushing Smith toward Group 4s “to try and outgrow it as much as possible. I am penciling two fungicide applications into my budget, though. Hopefully, we can get by with just two. I don’t think it’s a question of whether the rust will be here. At this point, I think it’s a question of how early it’ll hit the beans.”

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