Higher Wheat Acreage a Return to Normal
In January, USDA reported that nearly 41 million acres of winter wheat was planted in the U.S. this past fall, up 10% from 2009.
"That is 3.7 million more acres of winter wheat, which reduces acres available for crops in much shorter supply, such as corn, soybeans and cotton," says Purdue University ag economist Chris Hurt. "Thus, higher wheat acres intensifies the battle for acres this winter.
"Indiana had a 72% increase in wheat acres seeded this past fall," Hurt says. "While that’s a large amount compared with the previous year, the 430,000 acres is close to what we’ve seen in Indiana in recent history. Acreage for the 2010 crop was low because of poor economic returns on wheat and conditions that were too wet to seed wheat in late 2009."
Helping fuel this past fall’s renewed interest in wheat were better economics and favorable planting conditions, Hurt says.
"The price of wheat escalated in the fall of 2010 with the poor wheat production in Russia and Canada," he says. "Secondly, conditions for planting wheat improved dramatically with the early harvest of corn and soybeans, which helped producers get the crop planted in a timely manner."
Cash prices for wheat are hovering around $7 per bushel. Corn is trading at a cash price of about $6, with soybeans at $13.50.
While $7 is an attractive price, wheat might not be able to compete with $6 corn, Hurt says. Farmers can produce far more bushels of corn per acre than wheat.
There also are concerns about the quality of the current wheat crop. The last crop condition
report for the 2010 fall-seeded wheat crop indicated that 4% of the country’s crop is in very poor condition, 12% is poor and 37% is fair. This leaves 47% to be at a good or excellent rating.
"That raises the question of whether wheat stands will be strong enough to provide good yield opportunities for the 2011 harvest," Hurt says. "Those producers with wheat in poor condition do have alternatives. They can tear up the wheat crop and plant corn or soybeans this spring. That’s not only a [practical] alternative but a very viable alternative economically, especially for those producers who usually cannot grow double-crop soybeans with a wheat crop."
Hurt says he isn’t recommending that farmers give up on poor wheat crops, but they need to consider all of their options before spring planting.
"Wheat is high-priced, but corn and soybeans are very high-priced," he says. "This leads to the possibility that returns may be higher to tear up existing wheat and plant to single-crop corn or soybeans this spring."
USDA Invests in Wheat Research
USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announces a competitive grant program, the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI), that will award 56 scientists from 28 institutions a total of $25 million throughout five years.
The goal of the program is to develop methods to produce new varieties that minimize the damage to crops from stresses associated with climate change.
The long-term objective is a 10% reduction in nitrogen and water use in barley and wheat production, though the program will also focus on traits related to fungal diseases and low temperature tolerance.
To achieve these goals, the program will use genetic markers and other advanced tools to accelerate breeding cycles. The AFRI grant funding will also facilitate training for a new generation of plant breeders in the most advanced breeding technologies, which is critical for wheat research development in the coming decades.
Treat Wheat Seed Too
Wheat and barley get a new tool in the fight against key diseases. Stamina F3 RTU fungicide seed treatment is a new on-farm formulation available from BASF Crop Protection.
Chris Exton, BASF’s marketing manager for seed treatments, explains that the product is a package of three active ingredients that work together to provide broad-spectrum seed and seedling disease control.
Stamina F3 RTU combines the disease protection of triticonazole, the active ingredient in Charter fungicide seed treatment, with protection against Pythium by way of metalaxyl, the active ingredient in Acquire fungicide seed treatment. Also included in the formula is F500, the active ingredient in Headline fungicide seed treatment.
"Controlling disease from the seed up helps plants grow healthier and stronger right out of the ground," Exton says. Stamina F3 RTU is expected to be registered this summer.