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Mid-South wheat a survivor crop

One thing can be said about this year’s Mid-South wheat crop — it’s a survivor. Despite the wet, cold, even freezing temperatures Mother Nature threw at it this spring — yield prospects are good to excellent, say growers. On the downside, growers are going to need a lot of bushels to offset rising input costs and a widening basis.

Butch Brogdon, who has 300 acres of wheat near McCrory, Ark., said, “Some of my low spots drowned out, but surprisingly, the crop doesn’t look that bad. Looks can be deceiving, but it’s a normal crop at worse. The heads look like they’re filling out.”

Brogdon says his crop suffered through some disease pressure early, which he controlled with the fungicide Quilt. Brogdon hopes to start harvesting the crop around June 6 and will follow the crop with soybeans.

A widening basis is a big concern for Brogdon, but he’s not sure why it’s happening. “We think (the elevator) has bought a lot, and they don’t need any at this moment. But there has to be some reason.”

Rising input costs are taking a larger and larger bite from every bushel. “Everybody wants their piece of the pie. But what will happen if we have a collapse in the soybean market or any of the markets? We have so much money in fertilizer. It kind of makes me wonder if I should have gotten out of this before it got this far.”

With 85-degree days finally arriving in late May, Justin Cariker’s wheat crop is starting to turn quickly. He received an exceptional amount of rainfall this spring, but he planted the crop on well-drained ground.

Cariker, who farms 1,000 acres of wheat near Maud, Miss., said this year’s crop “is going to be a little off from the year before. Last year, we average 68-69 bushels, but I think we’ll bump close to 60 bushels this year.”

On the downside, “the basis has gotten so bad. I’m hearing, it’s at $1.50 and may go to $2. We sold a lot of wheat in the fall and in January. We didn’t get any of the $9 wheat. We were sold out by then. We’re probably going back to $5 wheat when it’s all said and done.”

Expenses have also shot up. “A big kicker is our trucking costs. Truckers are having to pay $4.50 for diesel. There’s no telling what they’re going to want to haul out of the field. The lines are going to be long too because everybody and their brother planted wheat this year. It could come down to what happened last year in corn, only being able to make two or three trips a day.”

Cariker sprayed all his wheat with a fungicide early on, “and we had to spray about 400 acres for armyworms. But that’s all we had to spray, so I felt fortunate.”

Patrick Johnson, whose family farms near Tunica, Miss., planted about 1,200 acres of wheat this year. He says the crop planted on higher, well-drained ground “looks real good. But our slow-draining, heavier ground has been hurt a little bit by all the rain.”

The wet, cool weather is causing some anxiety about plans to double-crop soybeans behind the wheat, according to Johnson.

Brownsville, Tenn., producer Richard Jameson’s wheat crop “is probably about a 7 on a scale of 10. On some of the varieties, you could see where there was a little freeze damage. There probably is a little bit of disease out there. And with all the rain, we wonder how much of our nitrogen was lost.

“What I’m astounded by is how much wheat we see in this county. You can’t believe how little cotton is going to be planted. That is a huge change around here. The big thing for farmers is the cost of farming. I am literally burning through money like I never have before.”

After the Easter freeze of 2007 nearly destroyed most of Bob Walker’s wheat crop, you can’t blame him for being a little gun shy about planting wheat last fall. Still, the Somereville, Tenn., producer figured the late-freeze was a one-time aberration. Imagine his surprise in April when temperatures again headed toward to freezing mark.

“We were a little late planting our wheat this year, for that very reason (the freeze), Walker said. “Then all of sudden we were looking at temperatures in the low 30s, and thought surely it couldn’t happen again. Luckily, it didn’t harm the crop this time.”

Because of wet weather, the crop has been susceptible to disease, noted Walker, who sprayed the crop with either Quilt or Quadris. “I went with a split shot of Quilt on the biggest part of the crop. The prospects looked good for a nice crop, and we had the opportunity for a good price on it, so we felt like it was vital for us to get some protection out there.”

Today “the crop is turning fast. It’s gone from a lush green to starting to yellow up. All indications are that right now, it’s a good crop.”

Walker says the cost of moving commodities is certain to impact his operation as well as food prices for consumers. “I’m hauling equipment (Walker’s businesses include a trucking company) today for $4 a mile. That’s almost a penny a foot.”


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