The majority of the Southeast’s winter wheat crop was rated as fair to good going into the final stretch of the 2014 growing season, with harvest expected to continue well into June due to cold, wet field conditions.

U.S. wheat producers are anticipating a crop of about 1.4 billion bushels this year, down 9 percent from last year.

In Georgia, growers are expected to harvest 280,000 acres. Alabama and South Carolina both are expected to have wheat crops of about 230,000 acres each, while Florida is anticipating a 15,000-acre crop.

Georgia is eyeing a 2014 winter wheat crop yield of 56 bushels per acre, down from 60 bushels last year. South Carolina growers are looking at a wheat crop almost identical to the one in 2013, at about 53 bushels per acre.

The lower Southeast wheat crop is mostly in fair to good condition, as of the first report of May. Georgia’s wheat was rated 31 percent fair, 57 percent good, and 8 percent excellent. Meanwhile, in Alabama, the crop was rated 21 percent fair, 62 percent good, and 13 percent excellent.

What are those yellow spots?

In Alabama, a popular question among wheat producers this year has been, “What’s causing yellow spots in my crop?” In fact, it’s a question many Southeastern wheat growers were asking this season, says Charlie Burmester, Auburn University Extension agronomist based in north Alabama’s Tennessee Valley.

“Cool wet weather has played a part, and low areas in fields have definitely lost some nitrogen fertilizer. Yellow wheat on higher ground and with no particular pattern is harder to rationalize,” says Burmester. “But after pulling up wheat, looking at the root systems, and spraying some of these yellow areas with sulfur fertilizer, we have a couple of possible answers.”

Burmester says he and others found that in many of the yellow spots, the wheat had a poor root system due to surface soil compaction. “We are not exactly sure how this compacted layer formed, but it was common in most of these yellow wheat areas.

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“To test if a sulfur deficiency could be causing this problem, a foliar application of 3/4 of a pound of sulfur fertilizer was applied to five problem wheat fields. One of the five sites showed a dramatic response to the sulfur application,” he says.

The one wheat response to sulfur fertilizer was dramatic, says Burmester, and points out that sulfur can become deficient on soils in the Tennessee Valley. A restricted root system increases the chance of a sulfur deficiency since most sulfur rapidly leaches to the subsoil, he adds.

Poor root development in wheat this season could be due to the poor early season growing conditions and also the development of surface soil compaction, he says.