With much of the Mid-South wheat crop damaged or ruined by a lengthy Easter freeze, concerns for next year's crop are surfacing.
“The wheat situation is bad enough already, but some producers are in a real bind,” says Jason Kelley, Arkansas Extension wheat specialist. “With all this damage how can farmers deliver on their contracts? Some have the option of rolling contracts over to next year and short-term that sounds fine.”
While it's too early to say there will be a shortage of seed, there's certainly potential for it. A majority of Arkansas seed production fields “around Stuttgart, DeWitt and up into northeast Arkansas are, without doubt, damaged. What kind of quality will whatever comes out of those fields have? Many seed companies have heavily damaged seed wheat fields. I'm told they're trying to locate growers with good wheat that might be used for seed.”
Looking for solutions to a looming tight wheat seed supply this fall, the Arkansas Plant Board Seed Committee will meet on April 10 in Little Rock.
“Usually if you plant blue-tag (the lowest class of certified seed), you can't obtain a certified class,” says Mary Smith, director of the Plant Board's Seed Division. “Normally a grower must plant registered class seed to gain blue-tag class.
“But in emergency situations when there's a seed shortage for whatever reason, the seed committee can suggest blue-tag class seed to produce blue-tag class. We've had at least one request to possibly certify some fields planted with blue-tag class.”
Calling the situation an “extraordinary circumstance,” Mark Waldrip, chairman of the Plant Board Seed Committee, says those calling for such an allowance are on solid footing. “I think we'll have to look at that rather favorable because otherwise it will be hard for some farmers to gain access to good seed.
“That's particularly true of the area from I-40 north, where the wheat crop was largely devastated. South of there, into Mississippi and south Arkansas, there's at least some degree of damage.
“Normally, this isn't something (the committee) would consider at all. But it could be a problem locating quality seed. On a one-time basis, we'll have to seriously consider allowing companies requesting it to obtain production from certified rather than registered production.”
“Quite a few farmers are a little excited” about the specter of a wheat seed shortfall, says Jim Craig, with Stratton Seed in Stuttgart, Ark. “Some of them booked wheat and won't be able to deliver so they're trying to buy the contracts back.
“It's an unusual situation. There has been a significant loss of wheat, including many fields that would normally produce seed raised from registered. It's my understanding that the certifying agencies are talking, and there's a real possibility they'll provide the industry some help.
“If they do that, I don't see a shortage in wheat seed. Based on what I'm hearing, I don't see the overall wheat seed market being tight. Maybe a newer variety or two will be tight, but those will be the exception.”
Smith is quick to point out even if the rules are loosened, wheat seed fields will still be required to follow the guidelines of certified seed. Such fields “will have to be in a rotation just as if they were raised for certified, they will have to be walked and inspected for any off-types and undesirable things.
“Everything else would have to be met by these fields. There would be land history requirements and the isolation requirements, and the field inspections will be done as they normally would be. When the seed is harvested, it will still have to come into the lab to be tested for clean-seed standards.”
How are seedsmen locating potential seed fields? “We go back through seed we've sold and check with growers to see what their wheat crop looks like,” says an east Arkansas dealer. “If they think it has potential, we'll determine if their fields line up with the guidelines — for example, the fields have to have been out of wheat for a number of years. If they haven't been, that's a deal-killer.
“They will have to follow the same certification procedure with one difference: moving from registered to certified for this single year.”
News of Arkansas' potential move hasn't yet spread through the Mid-South. “We're still trying to figure out what we can salvage or get rid of,” says Chris Main, Tennessee Extension wheat specialist. “Some of the certified seed fields will make it. Many of the other farmers have varieties they can save anyway. But once farmers here catch wind of what's happening in Arkansas, some of them will want the same option.”
Waldrip says any recommendation that comes from the seed committee will be based on “educated guesses” about the wheat crop's potential. “I don't think we'll know the bottom line on this crop until the combines are rolling through the fields.”