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Speedy wheat may mean harvest two weeks early in Arkansas

Arkansas wheat growers may start harvest two weeks early. Southern Arkansas may harvest first half of May.

At the rate the winter wheat crop is developing, some Arkansas growers may be able to relax over the Memorial Day weekend – their work done for the season.

Typically, wheat growers harvest in June.

“If we don’t have weather delays, we could have wheat harvested two weeks earlier than usual,” said Jason Kelley, Extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture. “Six or seven weeks from now, we could be harvesting some of the earlier varieties of wheat in south Arkansas.

“We have producers in Ashley County that typically start wheat harvest around May 20, but this year, it will likely be the first half of May, maybe as early as May 10.”

“This whole lack of winter has really sped things along,” Kelley said.

According to National Weather Service records for Adams Field, March 2012 had no days at or below freezing – the fewest since 2004. March also had 25 days at 70 degrees or above, the most since 2007, and 14 days at 80 degrees or above, the most since 1907. Overall, it was the warmest March on record. The story was the same in reporting on March 1 -- the National Weather Service said the seasonal temperatures at Adams Field for winter 2011-12 were the warmest on record.

The 2007 season looked great until the Easter Day freeze. Arkansas winter wheat got hammered and the average yield was 41 bushels an acre, a disappointment after the record 2006 season that saw a state average yield of 61 bushels per acre. At Little Rock, the latest freeze on record was April 19, 1983, according to the weather service.

“We’re well past bloom stage,” said Joe Vestal, Lafayette County Extension staff chair. His county has some 16,000 acres of wheat. “We’ll have some that will be cut two weeks earlier -- around the last week of May.”

Vestal said wheat listing from strong winds and heavy rain last week has straightened up. Some wheat was blown down near Gin City from April 2 storms.

Stripe rust, a disease that was reported in 20 counties is still out there, but “days with 80 to 90 degree highs and overnight lows in the 60s have really slowed it down,” Kelley said. “There are some varieties that are still susceptible, but a lot of that is looking good.”

Growers are also battling early armyworms.

For more information on crop production visit,, or contact your local county agent.

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