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State’s Winter Wheat Crop to Be Very Small

By Ms. Bonnie A. Coblentz

Extreme drought from July onward is expected to significantly reduce the state’s winter wheat crop that is typically small compared to the primary summer crops, but recent rain may help what was planted.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that, as of Nov. 26, 82% of the state’s wheat had been planted, 71% emerged, and only 50% was in good or excellent condition.

Erick Larson, grain crops agronomist with the Mississippi State University Extension Service, expects the state to have few acres of cropland with planted wheat for the 2024 harvest.

“Mississippi experienced exceptionally dry weather this fall,” Larson said. “We expect rainfall will recharge soil moisture during the winter, but the drought restricted or delayed wheat planting in many cases. Farmers often change intentions when weather conditions present uncertainty and risk.”

In a typical year, Mississippi growers plant about 100,000 acres of wheat for grain production. Some use it as a cover crop or ground cover not intended for harvest, while others double crop it, growing it over the winter and then following it with late-planted soybeans after harvest.

“The major wheat growing region has historically been in the central and north Delta, particularly the Bolivar County area,” Larson said. “Much of the state got a good rain in late November, but the northwest part of the state received only moderate showers.”

The USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service reported Mississippi harvested 95,000 wheat acres this summer, yielding an average of 53 bushels an acre. This year, Larson said growers may plant half of that amount.

“We are running out of time to plant wheat,” Larson said.

Wheat can be planted until about Dec. 10 in north Mississippi and Dec. 15 in south Mississippi.

“It’s a difficult time of the year to try to get field work and planting done,” he said. “It typically rains every seven to 10 days in December, and reduced air temperatures prevent soil from drying out as quickly as usual.”

Wheat requires cold temperatures during the winter to develop correctly, so we would prefer it emerges soon, but it can compensate well for late planting being a winter crop that largely develops in the spring. Wheat that has been planted needs sunshine and some warmer weather to grow a bit.

Will Maples, MSU Extension agricultural economist, said U.S. wheat stocks are up from last year based on higher acreage, but prices should remain strong.

“USDA projects the average farm price for the 2023/2024 crop year at $7.20 per bushel, and Mississippi producers can expect a price a little lower than that projection,” Maples said. “The market has somewhat stabilized from the shock of the Russia/Ukraine War, but the war, in general, is a price-supportive event.”

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