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Growers anticipate better wheat season
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Mississippi wheat growers did not have much to brag about after the 2002 harvest, but price potential likely will influence planting decisions in the next few months.
Erick Larson, grain crops specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the wheat harvest that growers completed in June averaged 40 bushels per acre, which was about 10 bushels below normal. Wet winter and spring conditions suppressed growth and reduced stands. Of the 225,000 wheat acres planted last fall, only about 180,000 could be harvested.
"The wet conditions drowned out and stunted growth, especially in poorly drained soils. These conditions reduced wheat yield potential by limiting tillers (additional stem) numbers. Excess rains also caused substantial nitrogen losses and further hurt yields," Larson said.
"Even though we are coming off a tough year, there is a lot of interest in planting wheat this fall," he said. "Prices are looking pretty good, it is a low-input crop and doesn't cost much to grow, and has the potential to be double-cropped."
John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist, said current cash prices for wheat are running around $3.20 per bushel, compared to about $2.81 at this same time last year, or about 14 percent higher.
Larson said winter wheat has gained in popularity in recent years as depressed markets and droughts have motivated growers to consider an alternative to summer crops. Wheat may allow double-cropping, and since it is a winter crop, wheat does not demand a lot of management during key activity times for the major summer crops.
"Low commodity prices for all crops makes wheat look more favorable because input expenses for wheat are low compared to other crops," Larson said. "I expect Mississippi growers to plant 20 to 30 percent more acres in wheat than they did last year, if weather conditions permit."
The Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station recently published the results of wheat and oat variety trials to help growers select the most appropriate variety for their area. A four-week planting window begins in north Mississippi around Oct. 15 and concludes in southern counties around Dec. 10.
"Seed companies that market wheat voluntarily submit varieties to MSU for testing at different cropping regions across the state," Larson said. "MSU can generate performance data such as yield information, straw strength, disease resistance and other information that can be used by growers to select varieties."
Larson said growers should evaluate variety test results in multiple locations and over several years. Information from the variety trials is available at county Extension offices and on the Internet at msucares.com.