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Louisiana wheat harvest looks good, research skewed by unusual weather

Louisiana wheat farmers expect to harvest good wheat crop. New wheat varieties, wheat diseases, weeds discussed at LSU AgCenter field day.

Despite a dry planting season this past fall and a relatively wet and warm winter growing season, Louisiana wheat farmers can expect to harvest a good crop.

“The wheat looks really good this year,” LSU AgCenter wheat specialist Ed Twidwell said at a recent wheat and oats field day at the AgCenter Macon Ridge Research Station.

With harvest two weeks ahead of normal, growers should realize good yields.

Wheat requires a certain amount of cold weather -- called vernalization -- between the time it’s planted in the fall and harvested the following spring. “Most of the varieties we plant here should be fine,” Twidwell said.

Twidwell estimates Louisiana farmers planted 290,000 acres of wheat this year, which is up about 20 percent from the previous year. And growers might have planted more if weather conditions had not been so dry.

Wheat prices this year have been holding at about $6.70 per bushel this spring. Twidwell expects prices to remain firm for next year’s crop and expects wheat acreage to be in the same range next fall. “Good prices encourage people to plant.”

During the field tour, LSU AgCenter plant breeder Steve Harrison described his wheat variety development and testing program.

It takes 10 to 12 years from an initial cross to releasing a variety, Harrison said. He works with Sungrains, a collaborative of wheat breeding programs at five universities -- the University of Florida, the University of Georgia, North Carolina State University, the University of Arkansas and the LSU AgCenter.

The wheat breeders at these institutions work together, share material and share testing locations to help make decisions.

“This year, many problems are growth-stage and planting-date dependent,” Harrison said. Because of those conditions, he’s evaluating varieties by their maturity and monitoring them to see how early they can be harvested.

“The ultimate trait in a wheat variety is economic yield,” Harrison said.

In addition to plant breeding, the AgCenter conducts variety trials that include both experimental varieties and varieties sold by commercial seed companies. This year’s trials include 62 entries for evaluation.

“This year has been really frustrating,” Harrison said, referring to the wet, warm winter. He advised growers to be cautious evaluating this year’s research data because it’s going to be an “atypical year.”

LSU AgCenter plant pathologist Boyd Padgett described fungicide trials where he’s looking at how combinations of fungicides and variety resistance keep diseases out of wheat fields. “We test all over the state in the hope of generating good data.”

In wheat varieties without genetic disease resistance, U.S. wheat producers have a good selection of fungicides, Padgett said. But he urged farmers to choose varieties genetically resistant to common diseases.

Two diseases that cropped up this year and aren’t usually seen are septoria and bacterial streak.

Septoria infections were a result of atypical weather, which created localized epidemics. But the disease came late in the season, so it didn’t cause much of a problem with yields.

Because of so much septoria, however, the plant pathologist recommends growers not to leave much straw in the field because the fungus remains there.

Saving seed from septoria-infected fields could lead to the disease appearing again next year, added Harrison.

LSU AgCenter weed scientist Daniel Stephenson talked about weeds in wheat -- specifically ryegrass control and variety susceptibility to the herbicide metribuzin. Stephenson is developing data on variety tolerance to the herbicide.

Stephenson also reviewed several other herbicides available for wheat and advised growers to “check your variety” for susceptibility to various herbicides. “We can really fight these weeds early-season. We have to fight them early. You have to understand what your weed spectrum is and what you’re using.”

“Keep it clean,” he said about weeds in the field. “It will pay dividends at the end of the season.”

Researchers have observed significant differences in Hessian fly populations and grain yields among wheat varieties that have been evaluated in field trials, said LSU AgCenter entomologist Fangneng Huang.

“Several varieties have been identified to have minimal infestation levels of Hessian fly with a satisfactory yield performance,” Huang said. “The field trials showed that high-yielding and Hessian fly-resistant varieties are available for managing Hessian fly in Louisiana.”

Huang said aphid populations on wheat are very low in Louisiana this year.  

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