Published on 06/25/09

Soggy spring weather wallops Georgia wheat

By Brad Haire
University of Georgia

After rough spring weather, the heat is on. And some crops are doing better than others in Georgia fields, where farmers are finishing up a disappointing wheat harvest and hoping the rain hasn’t stopped for the year, say University of Georgia crop experts.

Going into harvest a month ago, Georgia’s winter wheat crop was in good shape, said Dewey Lee, UGA Cooperative Extension small grains expert. But heavy springtime rain delayed harvest. Now, the quality of the 240,000 acres of wheat to be harvested is poor due to sprouting in the field, something farmers don’t want to happen.

“Soft red winter wheat is notorious for sprouting under rainy conditions,” he said. “Once soft wheat dries in the field to a harvestable condition, if the crop experiences prolonged rainy conditions, the seed will sprout. … This crop was pretty much disastrous. We had the opportunity to obtain good yields (50 bushels per acre) but have fallen below that.”

Right now, farmers are getting $3.50 to $4 per bushel for damaged, poor-quality wheat and $4 to $5 for good-quality wheat, said Nathan Smith, a UGA Extension farm economist. Farmers need at least $4 per bushel to break even this year.

“It’s a challenge to grow wheat in Georgia and get consistent returns each year,” Smith said. “This was just one of those years where neither prices nor the yields were there.”

Georgia is expected to produce 11.5 million bushels of wheat this year, according to the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service. This is half of last year’s total production.

Other Georgia crops face problems, too.

Georgia’s 350,000 acres of corn is at a stage where it needs at least a third of an inch of water each day, Lee said. Most Georgia soil holds an inch of water for only four days. After that time, it is dry.

Right now, corn planted in irrigated fields is in good condition. But every day without rainfall now hurts plants not able to get irrigation, he said.

“We had healthy plants going into this hot weather. But the heat is having a negative impact,” Lee said. “For farmers lucky enough to get afternoon thunderstorms, it’ll be a yield saver this time of year.”

During normal spring, Georgia farmers start planting peanuts in late April and finish in 40 days. This year, due to crazy springtime weather, it took 75 days to complete planting for the state’s expected 500,000 acres, said John Beasley, UGA Extension peanut expert.

“The word I have for this planting season is ‘discombobulated,’” said Beasley. “And it was as discombobulated as I have ever seen.”

Now that planting is over and most plants are coming up, the crop is looking OK, he said, considering. But 50 percent of the crop was planted in June. Typically, only 10 percent is planted in this month.

This means peanut harvest will push into mid October. Normal nighttime temperatures then will be in the lower 60s, a range peanuts can tolerate. If temperatures drop any lower, maturity and yields will be hurt.

According to a weekly crop report from GASS, 70 percent of Georgia’s tobacco crop is in fair to good condition. The remaining 30 percent is in poor to very poor condition.

Most of the state’s soybean and cotton plants are in good to fair condition for this time of year.

Brad Haire is the former news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.