Southampton County farmers expect good year for wheat

Published 9:13 am Wednesday, May 18, 2011


CAPRON—Wheat production in Virginia is expected to double in 2011 compared to last year.

A few Southampton County farmers expect Western Tidewater to share the bounty.

“I believe there are more harvestable acres in the county this year,” said Sedley farmer Gary Cross. “It’s always price-related; farms plant something they can make the most money on.”

The Virginia Department of Agriculture recently reported that wheat production is expected to total 17.1 million bushels for 2011. If this expected production is correct, then 2011 will produce 9 million more bushels than 2010.

National Agriculture Statistics reported that in 2008 Southampton County planted 16,700 acres of wheat. In 2009, the acreage dropped to 13,000 acres. Statistics for 2010 were not available.

Wheat yields for 2011 do not have to be reported until June 30, however Capron farmer M.L. Everett expects the figure will be around 14,000 to 15,000 acres.

“I think that’s all been associated with prices,” Everett said.

He said one reason he hasn’t gone into wheat production real heavy is if weather conditions are conducive to producing a good quality crop, your test wheat will be low.

“If the test weight is down, then it’s put into an animal feed market,” Everett said. “That brings less than the edible, like bread, market.”

“We aren’t in a grain belt so to speak,” Cross added. “We can’t compete with the Midwest or down in North Carolina where they’ve got dark soil.”

Despite not producing wheat on a mass scale, many farmers in Southampton County use wheat as a cover crop, including Everett.

“We’ve got 1,500 acres of row crops, and as many of those acres as we can get some type of cover crop, which is wheat, rye or barley,” he said. “We feel like it gives us a big advantage as far as wind erosion, water erosion. We even have the option, since we have cattle, of cutting some of it for hay.”

“It’s got a whole lot of advantages to it that we try to utilize,” Everett added. “I’m into growing the small grains just from the conservation standpoint of trying to get something back on the land because it adds organic matter to these sandy soils we’re trying to grow crops in.”

Everett serves on the Chowan Basin Soil and Water board and is an advocate for planting cover crop. He has 40 acres of wheat, 10 acres of rye and 25 acres of barley.

“That’ll give us a little more seed than we’ll need to seed down our acreage, and usually what I do with the excess, I’ve got a neighbor that is looking for some seed. So it gives me a market to sell that way,” Everett said.

Because wheat is $7.10 a bushel, he’s worried there will be a decrease in planting cover crop.

“Why would a farm save the seed to plant cover crop when he can sell the wheat to an elevator for $7.10?” Everett said. “I feel like it’s worth more to me to get it on the land to hold the soil in place and to help with weed control. It shades out the ground, and those weeds can’t get sunlight. It makes your herbicide program and your weed control better by having that cover crop.”

Everett stressed that there are no incentives to growing cover crop and that the farmer solely funds the price of the crop.

“This is something a lot of people don’t think about, but over in France and Spain and England they have a lot of subsidies that encourage the farmer to plant something green on the hillside because those countries rely a lot on tourism,” Everett said. “It looks good to people traveling the countryside to see a lot of green.”

Everett believes that the United States is slowly moving toward subsidies that will encourage wheat, rye and barley production.

“When you get into the money that is appropriated to (agriculture), it’s a better sale to the urban people to put it into some type of conservation-type program,” he explained. “We all enjoy riding past somebody’s house and seeing a nice pretty green lawn, and it’s the same thing with the countryside.”

According to Everett, one program that is being implemented in 2012 by the Chowan Soil and Water District is a $10 incentive to plant barley.

“There are some details and requirements that go along with that, but we’re trying to get barley production up and running for a BioSAGE plant in Hopewell,” Everett said. “It’s a win-win from the standpoint that we can produce our own ethanol to help our fuel go further.”