While planted acreage for winter wheat in Arkansas rebounded to 160,000 acres in 2020 — up from 2019’s record low of 110,000 acres — the state’s growers were still met with an unrelenting challenge, as intermittent rainfall throughout the year saturated fields.
Jason Kelley, wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said opportunities to plant fall-planted wheat have been scarce throughout the past several years.
“Wet weather is the number one contributing factor for the low wheat acreage for the last two years in Arkansas and the mid-south,” Kelley said. “Wet weather during September and October delays summer crop harvest, and when it is too wet to get crops out, wheat acreage is going to fall. In some areas of the state, we literally had one to two days to plant wheat before the next rain.”
Three of Arkansas’ four biggest crops — soybeans, rice and corn — saw increased acreage in a recent prospective planting report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Cotton acres decreased, from about 620,000 acres in 2019 to about 590,000 planned acres in 2020, a 5 percent drop.
In addition to narrowing the windows in which growers can actually plant the crop, the wet weather makes management practices such as pest control more difficult.
“Acreage that was planted has endured season-long wet conditions that reduced stands, prevented timely fertilizer and herbicide applications, and will likely reduce the overall yield potential,” Kelley said. “Timing of spring nitrogen is critical to maximize yields. We often have our best wheat crops when we have a dry winter and spring.”
Kelley added that making the best use of fields with adequate drainage was the make-or-break factor for many growers hoping to maximize wheat yield potential.
One silver lining amongst the rain clouds for growers has been the rise in grain market prices for wheat, especially compared to other commodities. Growers have recently seen opportunities to book wheat for harvest at or near $6 per bushel, and cash prices are currently about $5.75 per bushel, which is the highest it has been in about five years, with the exception of a brief period in August 2018.