The Virginia Tech specialist says barley was not as severely affected last year as wheat. Barley acreage was up over 100,000 acres last year and may increase some again this year, he says.

A big reason for the increase in barley acreage over the past few years is the availability of contracts generated by the construction of a barley-powered ethanol plant being built by Osage Bio in Hopewell, Va.

The plant’s opening was delayed by a fire, but company officials contend the plant should be up and running this spring. The increase in barley acreage in Virginia has pushed local supply of barley to over one-third of the targeted acreage by Osage Bio.

“Barley is still a good option, even with wheat selling at $7-$8 per bushel. Beans at $13 a bushel or better make barley an even better option, because typically we see increased soybean yields behind barley,” Thomason says.

The demand for barley has spread into neighboring North Carolina, where Osage Bio says they have picked up several new contracts for the grain. Overall, wheat and barley production in North Carolina suffered much the same fate as Virginia growers last year.

In some areas of North Carolina, the growing season made it equally as tough to be grain. For starters, the Tar Heel state had one of the wettest falls, and coldest winters on record, followed by the driest April in more than 30 years. The combination of weather trauma had the expected affect on wheat and other small grains.

The outlook for 2011 is clearly different says veteran North Carolina State Small Grains Specialist Randy Weisz.

“We have a lot of good looking wheat this year. Growers who got their wheat planted in October have nice thick stands with high yield potential. Those who waited a few weeks got hit by some rains and wheat planted into late November is a bit thin. But the warm days we had in February really helped — especially on the thinner stands that got some early nitrogen.”

To take maximum advantage of the ongoing high wheat prices growers will need to maximize yield when they harvest wheat later this spring. To optimize yields between now and harvest time Weisz says growers should keep a careful watch on their fields as we get into April. 

A lot of wheat was sprayed with insecticides at top-dress time with the intension of preventing a cereal leaf beetle problem later in the season. Sometimes that works. But if the adult beetles enter fields well after the spray was made, it can fail. So even if an insecticide has already been applied, all fields should be checked for cereal leaf beetle in April to make sure they don’t defoliate the crop and rob some of that $7 per bushel yield, the North Carolina State specialist says.

At the same time as fields are inspected for cereal leaf beetle, they should also be checked for any foliar diseases, especially powdery mildew.