North Carolina wheat growers harvested slightly more than 870,000 acres this year, with total production near 45,000,000 bushels, both all-time records.
This year’s wheat crop in North Carolina was up more than 20 percent from last season’s crop.
Despite the records, 2011-2012 wasn’t exactly a banner year for wheat production. Yields in North Carolina and across the Upper Southeast were down. In North Carolina average wheat yield fell more than 10 bushels per acre from last year’s record state average yield of 68 bushels per acre.
North Carolina had one of the warmest winters on record in 2011-2012 and the unusual weather produced some unusual problems for wheat growers, which had a negative impact on yield.
Leaf rust was more severe than in the past few years, possibly exceeding the severity of the disease on the 2005 crop. Stripe rust occurs rarely in the Carolinas, but created some sporadic, but severe yield losses last season.
The disease causing organism for both diseases over-winters far to the south, but due to the mild winter these spores survived much further north than usual and made it into North Carolina and Virginia much earlier than usual. The early arrival exposed wheat to the diseases at a vulnerable time in the plant’s growth cycle.
The warm winter also produced ‘big wheat’, or wheat that grew too fast, again because of the warm winter and lack of hot weather late in the growing season. In some cases growers had to mow wheat to slow down the rapid growth.
“We had what at one time looked like another record wheat crop in terms of yield, but the warm winter and one untimely stretch of cold weather hurt our yields. Still, it was a good year for most of our growers,” says Dan Weathington, executive director of the North Carolina Small Grains Association.