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Wheat defies odds for an average year
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- An average crop may not seem worth bragging about without considering the obstacles growers faced along the way.
Mississippi's wheat harvest concluded in June much as it started last fall: in the rain. Growers posted yields near the five-year average despite rainy conditions all along the way.
Erick Larson, small grains specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the state's average wheat yield will be near 48 bushels per acre, about four bushels more than last year. The state had 150,000 planted acres, down 100,000 acres from the previous year due to excessive rain and falling market price during the planting season.
"We had a lot of rain last fall that reduced acreage or delayed planting until later than growers like to plant," Larson said. "Normally, Mississippi growers plant between Oct. 15 and Nov. 10, but some didn't finish until mid-December last year."
Despite a year of light insect and disease pressure, Larson said most growers who gambled with late plantings were not very successful.
"Late planting and excessive rainfall limited the extent of tillering, which determines the potential head number," Larson said. "On the other hand, timely planted wheat in well-drained fields made several stems per plant. Some of those better fields produced yields of 70 to 80 bushels per acre."
Abundant rainfall in late May and in June muddied fields and prevented combines from harvesting the crop on time. In addition to complicating harvest efforts, rains reduced quality, yields and test weights. Lower quality causes dockage when the wheat is sold.
John Anderson, Extension agricultural economist, said wheat prices have been low for several years. While futures prices last fall may not have inspired many growers, the weather still was probably the primary reason for the significant acreage decline.
"Even if prices are similar this year, wheat acreage may increase if conditions are good this fall," Anderson said. "Current wheat prices are running around $3.15 to $3.25 per bushel. On a 40- to 50-bushel per acre yield, growers should at least be about breaking even this year, depending on their yields."