A shortage of wheat seed, especially of preferred varieties, will force some grain growers in the upper Southeast to look for alternative crops to plant this fall.

Oats, barley, even canola are all viable options, if marketing outlets are available. Of the options available, for farmers in the upper half of northeast North Carolina, most of Virginia and the Eastern Shore, barley may be the best option for at least five reasons.

1) Market availability: Osage Bio’s new ethanol plant in Hopewell, Va. has just come on line and is in need of contracting all the local barley they can get. The company recently upped the price they are paying for barley to 80 percent of the selling price of corn.

The Hopewell plant uses primarily barley as stock for making ethanol and high quality barley meal, used in a number of livestock feeding diets. Most of the barley for the plant comes from the Midwest, but some may come from as far away as Canada.

New barley varieties are available for growers in the upper Southeast and seed is available. At the end of the growing season, barley can provide some much needed cash for spring and summer 2011 crops.

2)Seed availability. When El Nino rains began in the upper Southeast last October, wheat acreage looked to be stable, maybe even up a few acres. Continued rainfall prevented many farmers, including many seed growers, from planting a crop.
For the wheat that was planted, and in some cases replanted, weather went from wet to worse. One of the coldest winters, with record snowfall to boot, hit the area, further damaging wheat that made it through the fall rains.

Wheat in general, and high quality wheat seed in particular, were hammered by the unusual weather pattern, which included hot, dry weather late in the season and on up to harvest.

The end result has been a general lack of wheat seed. Some mid- and late-maturing varieties were decimated by the weather, creating a dire shortage of seed in these varieties.