Good year for wheat

Published 9:46 am Wednesday, May 16, 2012

CAPRON—With Virginia’s 2012 wheat harvest expected to increase 5 percent over last year, Capron farmer Bruce Phillips says his crop looks promising.

“It looks like we have an opportunity for a good crop,” Phillips said Monday. “It’s never done until it’s finished. We could have a hailstorm or windstorm. At this point we have the potential for a good crop.”

Virginia’s 2012 wheat crop is expected to total 18.5 million bushels, according to the initial season forecast released by the Virginia Field Office of the National Agriculture Statistics Service, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

If realized, production will be up 810,000 bushels from 2011, a 5 percent increase. Producers in the state are expected to harvest 290,000 acres of wheat that will yield an average of 64 bushels per acre. That is 16.4 bushels above the projected national yield.

In Southampton County, a 10 percent above average harvest is expected, said County Extension Agent Chris Drake.

“At this point, you can actually see the heads have been made,” Drake said. “We’ll be harvesting as early as three weeks from now — the first week in June or second week in June.”

From counting the heads, he expects an above-average yield of 75 bushels per acre.

“We had a mini-drought in April, but (much of the) wheat was planted a little later, which caught the rain we had the last three to four weeks at a very opportune time,” Drake said.

The cash price for wheat as of Tuesday was $ 5.35 per bushel, he said.

“Some growers may have forward contracted at least 50 percent of their anticipated harvest at higher prices back in the fall, or even last year at this time,” Drake said. “Last year at harvest and shortly thereafter, wheat prices were around $7 per bushel. With the increased fuel costs and lower prices for the grain, profit margins will be smaller for 2012.”

Others may store it for a short time in hopes of getting a better price.

“Once they start harvesting (other crops), they won’t have room (to store wheat),” Drake said.

Others may keep a portion of their crop to plant in the fall for winter cover.

Phillips expects to begin harvesting his 65 acres of wheat by the first or second week in June.

“I would say 80 to 90 bushels (per acre) would be a good crop,” he said. “Anything under that or above it would be better or not quite so good.”

The mild winter has helped.

“We hope we don’t have a late frost,” Phillips said. “That could impact the yield. We’ve had good growing conditions up to this point.”

Wheat is grown using intensive management that implements the use of insecticides, fungicides and timely fertilizer applications to maximize yields, Drake said.

“This is due to research efforts of Virginia Tech through Virginia Cooperative Extension to determine what practices increase wheat yields and return profit to the producers,” he said.

In cooperation with local producer Chance Crowder, Drake has planted a wheat hybrid variety plot to determine the highest yielding varieties for use in Southampton County.

“Wheat is drying down now, and with some sunny days in the coming weeks, we will see harvest start in about three weeks,” he said.