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Wicked weather batters wheat

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• Big wheat crop is hurt by rain in Upper Southeast.

• One third of the crop is still to be harvested in July.

• Late wheat harvest slows double-crop soybean planting.

Back in May, I made the long jaunt, across country I might add, from Norway, S.C. to Suffolk, Virginia. Farmers were planting peanuts and had in most cases finished planting corn.

The one thing that stood out as different was all that wheat. There was wheat planted everywhere from Below the Lake in South Carolina up through the Pee Dee region in the northern end of the state. And in North Carolina, there seemed to be even more wheat, which extended into southeast Virginia.

There was not only lots of wheat, but it looked good. Oh, it looked real good, and there was plenty of it.

Now, what might have been is rapidly slipping through the fingers of many wheat growers, especially in North Carolina.

"I've talked to plenty of growers who tell me they have lost 20 acres in a field and others who have lost entire fields to the rain and wind," says Dan Weathington, head of the North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association.

"Particularly hard hit has been the Piedmont area of North Carolina. One grower told me on July 5, he and his brother lost an entire field of wheat, over 120 acres when a nearby creek over-flowed.

"He noted that in his lifetime, and I'm guessing he is in his mid 50s, that creek had over-flowed a dozen or more times, but never came close to flooding the field of wheat he lost.

The same story is repeated over and over by farmers across the state. It's not unusual for a grower to have harvested one early-maturing variety of wheat at 85 bushels per acre that was cut before the rain started. Then, have the same grower cut 25 bushels of later maturing wheat from the same farm.

In North Carolina alone, growers planted something close to 960,000 acres of wheat — officially. Unofficially, probably more than that. As of July 10 at least 150,000 acres of wheat was still to be harvested. Worse, as of July 1, a critical planting date cutoff for double-crop soybeans, at least 300,000 acres remained to be harvested.

To go along with the poor harvest time weather, prices for wheat are at $5.80 a bushel, not nearly so enticing as  the $7-$8 per bushel prices growers had back when the crop was planted last fall.

All in all, this year's wheat crop in the Upper Southeast is a classic tale of what could have been.

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