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Despite setbacks, Alabama’s wheat yields are surprisingly high

Wheat yields are well above the national average, even with early season weather woes.

Many Alabama farmers are experiencing good yields despite summer showers as wheat harvest moves into high gear.

Lauderdale County’s James Walker began wheat harvest June 6 and finished two weeks later, despite sporadic rainfall. His yields are well above the national average, even with early season weather woes.

“Due to dry weather in November, we didn’t get as much of a wheat stand as we had hoped,” said Walker, an Alabama Farmers Federation State Wheat & Feed Grain Committee member. “After rain finally fell, the weather turned bitter cold. But our winter wheat crop was still above average, so we are grateful.”

Walker said he and other wheat farmers in his area averaged well above the national average with 70 to 75 bushels per acre, with some higher than 80 bushels. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) crop production report May 10 predicted national average wheat yields of 48.1 bushels per acre, down 2.1 bushels from last year.

With his wheat gathered, Walker immediately began planting soybeans in the same fields. However, farmers like Autauga County’s Andy Wendland said early summer rains created harvest problems.

“We intended to begin harvest two weeks ago,” said Wendland, the Autauga County Farmers Federation president. “Spontaneous showers and harvesting carinata (an oil seed crop) put us behind schedule.”

Delayed harvest creates additional weed pressure and can slow machines gathering wheat. Weeds and overly mature wheat also erodes the crop’s quality.

Wendland’s winter wheat was a cover crop for last year’s cotton acreage. Because of the delayed harvest, the cotton to be planted behind his wheat is late. Those fields will trail the rest of his cotton, which was planted weeks ago and has already emerged.

In addition to good yields, another bright spot for this year’s wheat crop is the price increase over last year, said the Federation’s Carla Hornady.

“Commodity prices, especially for wheat, have gone up,” said Hornady, the Federation’s Cotton, Soybean and Wheat & Feed Grain divisions director.

USDA reports the season-average farm price for wheat last year was $4.75 per bushel. This year, the projected average price per bushel is $5.10.

Winter wheat is planted in the fall, and harvest usually lasts from the end of spring to early summer. Farmers use winter wheat as a cover crop because it adds organic matter and nutrients to soil, and it helps control erosion.

According to USDA's spring crop report, winter wheat acreage in Alabama was expected to reach 190,000 acres — a 27 percent increase over last year’s 150,000 acres.

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