As in other states, soft red winter wheat acreage in Arkansas is down — way down, about 80 percent by my estimate. Arkansas should be planting around 1 million acres of wheat each year, but last fall we managed to plant only 150,000 to 240,000 acres, depending on whose estimate you use. Regardless, we have a very small crop.
The crop has endured some difficult times, with constantly wet conditions through December and recent temperature shifts that made you think summer was around the corner one day and winter the next. Arkansas weather is not for the faint-hearted.
But, the surviving crop is being fertilized when weather permits, and most of it looks pretty good. With good drainage, wheat is very tough.
In my travels, the best fields I've seen are those that were “dusted in” from late September through the first week of October (when unending rains started). Those of us who waited for a rain and the recommended planting window once again were out of luck.
Given the fall weather in recent years, we need to figure out how to extend our planting window into late September without increasing risks from certain insects (Hessian fly) and plant diseases (barley yellow dwarf, take-all, soilborne viruses).
Leaf rust continues to survive in Arkansas. I have had reports from the southwest part of the state and as far north as Cross County in the northeastern part. Rick Cartwright, Arkansas Extension plant pathologist, said we should keep an eye on leaf rust for now and hope additional cold weather freezes it out. However, he suggested monitoring fields for leaf and stripe rust from late March through most of April, just to be on the safe side.
He said stripe rust can be very destructive under the right conditions, and fungicide applications should not be delayed if hot spots of stripe rust are noticed. For more information on fungicide recommendations in wheat, contact your local county Extension agent.
Ryegrass was a huge problem last year in Arkansas wheat, and I have seen some around this year. Over the past few years, ryegrass control appeared to be more of a problem. A new herbicide called Osprey has been labeled for ryegrass control in wheat. Results from trials by University of Arkansas weed scientists show improved control over standard products.
Bob Scott and Dick Oliver found that Hoelon-resistant ryegrass control with labeled rates of Osprey is over 90 percent. This new technology should help us with our persistent ryegrass problem in wheat.
During the next few weeks, attention should be paid to nitrogen fertilization and winter weed control. And don't forget about sulfur deficiency on some soils, given the heavy fall rains. During late March and April, scout for spring foliar diseases and take action if needed.
Although the wheat crop is small, some of it looks surprisingly good. We can hope for better prices during the early summer when our crop is harvested. For those growers with good wheat, an early summer cash flow will be welcome, especially with the continuing uncertainty about soybean rust.
Jason Kelley is the Arkansas Extension agronomist for wheat and feed grains.