As Georgia's population continues to grow, construction is on the rise and roads continue to be widened to make room for the increased traffic. It's all adding up to increased profit for wheat farmers.
Wheat Straw Protects New Grass
In addition to harvesting wheat, some farmers are now harvesting wheat straw often used as a soil stabilizer in construction. And they can't seem to harvest it fast enough to meet the needs of the construction industry, say University of Georgia experts.
"When a construction company puts down grass seed, they use wheat straw to protect the soil and newly planted grass," said Dewey Lee, an extension grains agronomist with UGA's College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. "You'll see wheat straw being used all around newly constructed homes and businesses, and on road banks."
The state's department of transportation also uses a lot of wheat straw. "They use both bales and loose straw when they cut road banks," Lee said.
Farmers Need Additional Market
The demand for wheat straw couldn't come at a better time for farmers. "The price of wheat has declined to a terrible low, and the number of farmers growing wheat is also declining," Lee said. "The price of wheat is the lowest it's been in 20 years."
New domestic uses for wheat straw are helping farmers add value to their wheat crops. "Farmers are highly dependent on how close they are to a wheat straw buyer," Lee said. "If they can find a buyer in or near their county, wheat straw can bring in a pretty good profit."
The profit to the farmer is also directly related to the farmers' labor costs. "The farmer has to concentrate on setting a minimum price for the straw, if he's not going to handle it himself," Lee said. "If he does bale it himself, he has to store it and then charge a higher price for it."
Georgia Wheat Also Sold in Tennessee
"There are a lot of growers across the state that are taking advantage of this market," he said. "North Georgia growers can move their straw to the Chattanooga market while growers in the upper coastal plain sell their straw in Macon and Atlanta."
Wheat growers are planting their crops now for harvest in early May through June.
Georgia-grown wheat is soft-red winter wheat commonly used in pies, pastries, cookies, biscuits and donuts.
(Photograph by Sharon Omahen, University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)