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Freeze, Diseases May Threaten State Wheat
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi's wheat crop headed into April with a bright outlook, but recent weather sent farmers to the fields looking for freeze and disease damage.
Erick Larson, wheat specialist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, said the dry winter was favorable to the state's wheat.
"Overall, the wheat crop has been in real good shape going into the spring," Larson said. "Recent rains caused some water- logged spots and killed some plants."
An early-April freeze damaged some wheat, but only time will tell how much.
"Some of the wheat in the northern part of the state may be damaged by the freeze because they had a frost April 9," Larson said. "It's hard to diagnose how much that freeze is going to hurt the crop until it matures further."
While there is nothing farmers can do to treat freeze damage, Larson said they should look for damage. Freeze-damaged wheat has a browning of the green leaf tissue. The flowers dry on wheat that has headed, while the heads of less mature wheat may have trouble pulling away from the boot, the leaves that surround the head.
Larson said wheat that has headed may be damaged by temperatures 30 degrees and lower, but before it heads may be damaged by temperatures 28 degrees and lower.
According to the Mississippi Agricultural Statistics' most recent crop report, 52 percent of Mississippi's wheat has headed, up from 25 percent this time last year. The report classified 82 percent of the crop in good or excellent condition with another 16 percent listed as fair.
But rains and cooler weather threaten the wheat with leaf disease. Larson recommended scouting the upper leaves on the wheat plant and identifying any diseases present.
Stripe rust is an aggressive disease that thrives in wet, cool weather. It does not commonly occur, but some farmers in Mississippi have reported symptoms. Growers in Arkansas are having significant problems with this disease, Larson said. It can be treated, as can leaf rust and septoria, two other diseases potentially facing wheat.
Even with these recent threats, the state's wheat crop still looks positive, Larson said. Acreage increased to 180,000 acres from 160,000 in 1998.
Tom Jones, Extension agricultural economist, said 2001 Mississippi wheat acreage is expected to go to 230,000 acres. U.S. planted acreage is anticipated to drop 2 percent this fall. Prices that have been low, are also moving higher.
"Current Mississippi elevator prices for the new crop range from $2.33 to $2.38 a bushel," Jones said. "While this is less than what growers got a few years ago, it is up from recent prices."
National and international wheat stocks have been high due to recent good crops, but these are falling slightly, Jones said. Some of this decline is because of a slight increase in food use, which is helping drive prices up. Imports, also, are at their lowest levels since 1995-1996.
With harvest not until late May through early July, it's too early to predict yields. However, Jones said Mississippi's crop is looking good now and comes off two years of yields above the national average. In 1999, the nation averaged 42.7 bushels an acre of wheat, while Mississippi harvested an average of 50 bushels an acre.