LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Rain and resulting wet soils have kept planters out of fields and sent Arkansas wheat acreage into a nosedive. Farmers, keeping one eye on the skies and another on a quickly closing planting window, are hoping that the last few days of dry conditions continue.
"We're just now getting into the rice-type soils. Just now, we planted half our plots around Stuttgart (Ark.). With some other plots, the ground has been opened up and it should be dry enough in a day or so to plant some more," says William Johnson, Arkansas Extension wheat, corn and milo specialist.
The ground Johnson and colleagues are planting into was worked down before the seemingly incessant rains arrived.
"If the rice ground hadn't been worked up — if the straw was still out — there's no way it could be planted. There's not enough time. Behind rice, if the ground wasn't worked up prior to all the rain, I'm afraid the vast majority of those acres are lost," says Johnson.
All the news isn't bad, though. It looks as though there will be a lot of wheat planted behind soybeans. Still, the state has gone from an estimated 1.5 million acres of wheat to 1.2 million.
"And if I was a betting man, I'd say the ending acreage will be more like 1 million. So, Arkansas stands to lose a third of its wheat acres."
And the state is actually very lucky conditions aren't worse. If the latest storm system (that produced devastating tornadoes) had dropped rain in the state as had been expected, another 200,000 to 300,000 acres of potential wheat could have been lost. That could have put Arkansas at 700,000 acres — around half the original estimate and the smallest crop since 1985's 650,000 acres.
"By missing those bad storms and with a forecast for a dry week, we should be able to get out and plant pretty heavily during the next few days."
Many of the lost acres will be in Craighead, Poinsett and Cross counties — a big area for wheat production. Consultants say farmers are now planting wheat in the counties but mainly on Crowley's Ridge and behind soybeans.
"The rice ground, they all say, is pretty much a losing proposition this year. Between the three counties, there's probably at least 150,000 acres normally planted behind rice — so that'll be a significant chunk stripped away."
The dearth of wheat seed seems to have eased some. Farmers aren't likely to find the most popular varieties, but some decent products are still available, says Johnson.
"We're also starting to get calls on ryegrass. Farmers say in their no-till fields they're finding three-leaf and four-leaf ryegrass. Those fields need to be treated with a pint to a pint-and-a-third of Hoelon as quickly as possible. And where seed has been drilled and there's resistant ryegrass, a half ounce of Finesse is being applied."
The week of Nov. 4, after seven years as Extension specialist, Johnson accepted a job with Pioneer as field sales agronomist.
"I'll be with Extension through the end of December and then start the new work. I'll still be in Arkansas, still working with farmers, and I'm really look forward to it. Producers can and should still call me like they always have," he says.