Despite one of the coldest winters on record and flooding rainfall in the early spring, many wheat growers in the lower Southeast are still eyeing good crops, though harvest is expected to be later than normal.
In Alabama at the first part of May, 61 percent of the wheat crop was rated good and 5 percent excellent.
Andy Wendland, who farms in the central part of Alabama in Autauga and Montgomery counties, is pleased with his wheat crop of just under 500 acres.
“We thought the unusually cold temperatures of this past winter might hurt us, but it looks good right now, and we like the potential,” said Wendland in early May. “The heads are filled nicely, even though the crop did get a late start. We prefer to be planting wheat by about Nov. 15, and knock it out fairly fast, but cotton harvest was so late and slow this past year that we were delayed.”
He’s planting mostly AGS and Pioneer varieties, along with some Jamestown.
In addition to wheat, Wendland’s operation includes 150-plus acres of oats, 1,100 acres of cotton, 250 acres of corn, and about 450 acres of soybeans.
“We normally plant more corn, but because of the markets we’re going with more soybeans this year. We have about 30 acres of corn that were flooded, so we’ll have to come back there with something else. We have a lot of wet ground right now.”
A massive line of thunderstorms passed through the lower Southeast in late April, dumping as much as 24 inches of rainfall in parts of south Alabama and north Florida.
While Wendland can irrigate a small portion of his wheat crop, it hasn’t been needed so for this season. “We were prepared to water if needed, and we’ll use irrigation to jump-start the soybeans following the wheat. Most of our wheat this year was planted no-till behind cotton stalks, something we do whenever the rotation allows,” he says.
Following cotton and prior to planting wheat, Wendland applies a blanket of homogenized fertilizer. He applies herbicides for broadleaf and ryegrass control
“We usually make the fertilizer and herbicide applications in two separate trips over the field. One of those will include some secondary nitrogen. In the past, we’ve gone as far as a third treatment with fungicides but not this year. We’ll also use an insecticide if needed. We try to give it all the nitrogen it needs, but this year has been challenging. We’ll do a shot of NSol with stream tips and then try and come back with Osprey and Harmony for broadleaf control.”
Even with excessive rainfall, Wendland says his wheat crop appears to be clean, and herbicides have been effective. “We were concerned because it was one of those years when you just can’t get in the field – it was either too wet or too cold.”
He predicts wheat harvest will go well into June this year.
“There have been years when we have been finished by the first of June, but we’ve seen an unusual weather pattern this year. Once it’s time, everyone will be going full-speed to get it done quickly.”
Prices look favorable as harvest time nears, says Wendland, the result of factors such as the unrest in Ukraine and reports coming out of Kansas about problems with the wheat crop there. “We’ve got some wheat that is forward-contracted, and we have some orders out there that haven’t hit yet. We were not real excited about some of the early pricing. It’ll probably all be going locally, usually picked up here at the farm. We just don’t have a lot of storage capacity. As one of our friends said, if you’re looking at wheat in the bin in July, you’ll be looking at it for a long time. Our weather was tough last summer with all the rain, and the little we did have in the bin didn’t store well because of the humidity and moisture.”
Wendland planted some sesame behind wheat this past year, and he liked it well enough that’s planting it again this year.
“We had pretty good results, so we’ll try it again and make some modifications. It fills in that void after a grain crop when we’d have to control weeds and pests anyway. It’s not real attractive to wildlife and not real demanding on nutrients and rainfall. It gives us a chance to create income on a field that would sit fallow otherwise.”
Wendland feels fortunate that he’s been able to stay on schedule with his cotton planting, considering the spate of thunderstorms during the spring.
“We were fortunate – we have about three-quarters of our cotton crop in the ground,” he said on May 1. “We had a good week of planting just before the storms came through, and a lot if it is already emerging since we had adequate moisture.”
North Florida expecting good wheat yields
South of Wendland’s farm, in the Florida Panhandle, the wheat crop also looks promising, says Josh Thompson, Jackson County Extension agent.
We don’t have nearly as much planted here as we did last year, but what we do have looks really good,” says Thompson. “I’ve done a couple of wheat yield checks, and they look really good. We haven’t had much disease pressure to deal with this year. We had a lot of rust in 2013, but not so much this year. We have seen some powdery mildew, but overall, I think we’re looking at good to very good wheat yields, assuming it’s all still standing up after the storms pass through.”
Growers in north Florida initially were worried about unusually cold temperatures during the production season, but Thompson says the crop generally looks undamaged.
“At planting this past fall, we had a couple of big rainfalls in late November which pushed us back. I had a wheat fungicide trial, and I had to re-plant the entire thing because it was washed out.”
Generally, he says, the wheat crop is a little late this year. “We’ll be a little further behind normal with our wheat crop, probably into late May and early June. In a perfect year, if we got planted early, we might could harvest by the end of May, but it might push it into mid to late June this year with some of our crop.”
Thompson says the planting of spring crops is generally running late in the area, especially on heavier soils.
“No matter where you are, low spots have some flooding. That’ll put us behind quite a bit. Rainfall amounts have ranged from 3 to 10 inches. Some of our more northern regions received even more, and some fields were already saturated. We had a few peanuts planted, but not very many, probably less than 5 percent, and maybe 5 to 10 percent of our cotton planted when the storms came through. We’ll probably see some isolated cases of severe flooding, with entire fields being washed out.”