The weather took a favorable turn in April for wheat growers in Virginia and North Carolina. Thanks to cool temperatures and plentiful rain, the prospects for wheat in those states were greatly improved.

“The weather helped our wheat catch up,” said Randy Weisz, North Carolina Extension small grains specialist in mid-May. “Much of it was planted late, but these low temperatures and the moisture spurred it on, and it is looking very good.”

He was reluctant to predict the yield of this crop, but it seemed reasonable to think that at least average production was on the way.

And better than average yields may be possible for those who got planted on time. But so much of this crop went in late because of the uncertainty at planting time. It certainly isn’t going to be as good as last year, said Weisz. “But it could be a good crop. The moisture has been very good for grain fill.”

The prolonged, cool wet weather wasn’t completely beneficial. “It has encouraged a lot of disease, more than usual at this time of year,” said Weisz. “Particularly powdery mildew and Stagonospora nodorum — what we used to call Septoria — and we have had lot of yellow dwarf virus also.”

A different problem has resulted from the economic situation.

“Because fertilizer prices were so high last fall, a lot of farmers skimped on or even left out applications of preplant fertilizer, particularly potash,” he said. “Now, a lot of potash deficiencies are showing up.”

In mid-May, Weisz predicted that because of the relatively moist weather so late in the season, farmers may also see incidences of head scab.

“Check carefully for head scab,” he said. “You will see white or pink heads on parts of heads instead of the normal healthy green. It can cause lower test weight and elevated level of mycotoxin, which can lead to the wheat being refused.”

If you have a lot of head scab, you should increase fan speed and blow the affected heads out the back of the combine, he said.

In southern Virginia, the weather had a very favorable effect also. “Our wheat looks excellent,” said C.D. Bryant III of Blairs, Va. “We have had a lot of rain lately, and it is heading out. I anticipate making a good yield, maybe 70 bushels per acre.

“We needed rain before it came, and then when it came, it didn’t stop.”

In recent years, a significant factor in wheat yield in his area has been an insect.

“We have a lot of trouble with cereal leaf beetle,” he said. “It turns the wheat leaves white and takes out a lot of the yield.”

A new control strategy has worked pretty well for him.

“We have begun putting Warrior (insecticide) in our application of the herbicide Harmony at a rate of three ounces per acre. The Warrior gives excellent control of the cereal leaf beetle. It has definitely proven out.”

Cereal leaf beetle can be a very serious problem, said Weisz. “They lay eggs in the spring, and the larvae will defoliate your crop.”

But the cereal leaf beetle is susceptible to almost all insecticides used on wheat. So the Extension recommendation in North Carolina is to scout for cereal leaf beetle in mid- to late-April.

Once the threshold is reached, you can control it with whatever insecticide you normally use.

Regardless of weather conditions, the winter wheat crop in both North Carolina and Virginia will fall well short of 2008, mainly because of reduced planting.

“Fertilizer prices were high early last fall, and wheat prices crashed from their 2008 high,” said Weisz. “The price of nitrogen was so high you couldn’t afford to plant wheat. But it had come down by November.”

In North Carolina, according to USDA, plantings of 510,000 acres are predicted, 29.1 percent less than in 2008, with projected production of 28 million bushels, down 35 percent from 2008. Average yield was expected to be 55 bushels per acre, down from 60 bushels per acre last season.

In Virginia, production is expected to total 16.1 million bushels, down 19 percent from 2008, on plantings of 245,000 acres. down 12.5 percent from 2008. An average yield of 66 bushels per acre was projected, down from 71 bushels per acre in 2008.

The national forecast for winter wheat production is down 20 percent. Based on May 1 conditions, USDA forecast yield at 44.2 bushels per acre, down three bushels from the previous year.

Among the other wheat types:

• Hard red winter wheat production is down 16 percent from a year ago to 871 million bushels.

• Soft red wheat is down 31 percent to 422 million bushels.

• White wheat production totals 208 million bushels, down 5 percent from a year ago.

Summarizing other areas, in South Carolina, wheat plantings were projected down at 160,000 acres from 205,000 acres last year. Average yield is expected to be 51 bushels per acre, down three bushels per acre from 2008, and production is projected at 8.16 million bushels, down from 11 million bushels last year.

In Georgia, plantings were projected down from 400,000 acres last year at 240, 000 acres; yield down from 56 bushels per acre to 50 bushels per acre, and production down from 22.4 million bushels to 12 million bushels.

In Kentucky, plantings were projected down from 460,000 to 400, 000 acres; yield up from 71 to 72 bushels per acre, and production down from 32.6 million to 28.8 million bushels.

In Tennessee, plantings were projected down from 520,000 to 300,000 acres; yield up from 63 to 64 bushels per acre, and production down from 32.7 million bushels to 19.2 million bushels.

In Maryland, plantings were projected to hold at 180,000 acres; yield down from 73 to 67 bushels per acre, and production down from 13.1 million bushels to 12 million bushels.

No statistics were reported for Alabama or Florida.