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Reduced wheat acres surprise crop watchers

Two years of record wheat yields and low prices on all crops should have prompted Mississippi growers to increase their wheat acreage, but the weather during planting season last fall had the final say.

“Wheat acreage is down about 18 percent compared to the previous year,” said Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. “In addition to the recent record yields, wheat is appealing because it produces income early in the season when growers could really use it.”

Like other crops, wheat prices have been depressed. Current cash prices are $2.30 per bushel, compared to $2.55 last year and the five-year average of $2.97.

Mississippi growers planted about 205,000 acres in wheat, compared to the 270,000 that had been expected. Wheat is considered an economical crop to grow because its production expenses for seed, fertilizer and pest control are lower than other crops.

“When prices are low for all crops, acreage tends to shift toward the more economical crops like wheat to reduce income risks,” Larson said. “Unfortunately, it was too dry for wheat seed to germinate until late last fall. Then, when rains started, growers who had delayed planting didn't have any breaks in the weather to allow them to plant the acreage they had intended to plant.”

Adding insult to injury, the wet winter may have reduced acres for harvest because of flooding in low or poorly drained areas. Because of the wet conditions, Larson said growers are not likely see a third year of yields around 50 bushels per acre.

“Wheat is maturing a little later than in recent years, but that shouldn't have a significant impact on yields unless we have hot and either extremely wet or droughty conditions in May,” Larson said. “Moderate temperatures and low humidity are ideal for the plants between heading and maturity, from mid-April until mid-May.”

Coahoma County, Miss., Extension agent Ann Ruscoe said a small number of growers have applied herbicides to kill their wheat crops so they can plant cotton in its place. Wheat stands were not adequate, and the income from wheat wouldn't be as good as it will be with cotton, she said.

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