After two weeks’ worth of intermittent rains in late May and early June delayed the start of the winter wheat harvest throughout eastern Arkansas, area growers were finally able to set to the task early this week.
According to a June 6 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, growers had harvested only 3 percent of the state’s approximately 350,000 wheat acres by June 5, far behind the five-year average of 27 percent typically harvested by that point in time. But Phillips County agricultural agent Robert Goodson said an intervening week of “nice, sunny, warm and dry” weather had given growers in his county a green light to begin the harvest.
“They’re not necessarily putting in extreme hours to ‘catch up,’” he said. “But they’re all making full use of the day.” He said that of the approximately 16,000 acres of wheat in Phillips County, about 2,000 had been harvested.
Jason Kelley, wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said late-season rains had negatively impacted wheat acreage and quality in Arkansas over the last few years.
“In general, I think the yield will still be OK,” Kelley said. “With the highest-yielding, highest-quality wheat, you really don’t want any rainfall once it’s mature. And right now, most of the producers are anxious to get the wheat harvested, because most of those acres will be planted back as soybeans. Growers want to try to get the maximum yield out of those.”
Goodson said early yields have been in the 50-65 bushel per acre range, with test relatively strong test weights ranging from 58-58 lbs. per bushel.
Planted acreage in winter wheat decreased significantly in 2015 to 350,000 acres, down from 465,000 acres planted the previous year. Russell Parker, staff chair for the Crittenden County Cooperative Extension Service office, said growers in his county had planted approximately half of the 25,000-30,000 acres of wheat they had grown in previous seasons.
“The weather conditions weren’t real good this fall for planting, but the main thing is the prices didn’t look attractive enough for them to plant,” Parker said. “The price for wheat in the fall was about $4.50 a bushel, and it’s stayed about there. Normally, we’d be looking at $5,50-$6.50 a bushel.”
Parker said the depressed market prices have continued to squeeze farmers’ bottom lines as input prices remain steady.
“Every farmer’s out there to do the best he can,” Parker said. “And that means not spending money on inputs that don’t give him a return.”