On May 1, under lovely skies and a refreshing breeze, Jim Quinton and other volunteers picked up yardsticks and began a tour through Arkansas wheat fields.
Quinton – currently residing in Mexico, Missouri -- and colleagues counted tillers and looked for disease in an effort to compile a simple “state of the crop” report.
In past years, the team has toured the Missouri Bootheel, western Tennessee counties, and western Mississippi counties in sampling efforts. “We had more participants back then and I expect it to build back up to that level again in future Delta County Wheat Tours.”
Over lunch at the Best Food In Town in Marvell, Ark., Quinton explains his passion for wheat. “I worked for a number of grain companies -- Cargill, Bunge – but also had a 10-year stint as a Farm Bureau grain economist. During those years, I was based in Illinois but we had a small contract with the other state Farm Bureaus including Arkansas, Missouri, Kentucky and others to provide some market information for their members. That’s how I got better acquainted with folks here in Arkansas.
“I just really like wheat. Back when I was with Continental Grain Company in the 1970s, I spent a lot of time on the Great Plains in wheat fields. Every spring, usually around late April through early May, we’d travel through Kansas and neighboring states looking at winter wheat.”
In the 1980s, Quinton had a revelation. “I thought, ‘Hey, why not check out Arkansas’ wheat for Farm Bureau?’ Obviously, the wheat here is different than in the Great Plains – hard versus soft. Anyway, it worked well and led to a strengthening network. After leaving Farm Bureau, I just kept doing it along with an annual look at corn and soybean yields.”
The tours are simply fun to do and keeps him plugged into agriculture, Quinton admits. “Now that I’m retired, the information we collect is sent to whoever wants it, usually emailed.”
What has he found in Arkansas so far?
“In very general terms, the yield prospects here look to be mediocre. There is some very good wheat in spots and, in other spots, wheat that has suffered. Many fields we’ve visited appear to have suffered from too much water for too long. I doubt that finding is a surprise to anyone here. As the separation between the good and the poor widens, obviously, it pulls the average down.”
Remember, says Quinton, “it wasn’t long ago that Arkansas had drier weather and made great wheat – 100-bushel yields. Ordinarily, whether here or Illinois or Ohio, soft wheat is pressured from too much water during some point of the growing season. That period, along with cooler temperatures, appears to have lasted longer here this season. But the crop will be okay.”
The team is also looking for diseases. “There was a wheat field west of DeWitt that had some wheat scab in it.”
More than 40 years ago, around 1974, Quinton – a native of Illinois -- first looked at Delta crops. “I was prepared for differences but, still, when I arrived it was very different from the Midwest.
“First thing was I couldn’t find any place to eat. Where do you get some food? Well, I came to a crossroads and there was a small dry goods store with about five tables in the back, a small kitchen serving plate lunches. It was great! And here we are decades later, having a plate lunch in the Delta.”
Later in the day, the numbers have been compiled and crunched. The tour findings:
- Average tiller count, per square foot, came out to 62.5.
- The low tiller count was 38 and the high was 95.
“Field-to-field there was wide variability,” says Quinton. “The tiller count in the past has been in the mid-60s. Again, that points to this year as having a mediocre yield, but not bad. Hopefully the rest of the season will be favorable for wheat and pull the averages up.
“One positive we found is that disease pressure is relatively low. That’s a reason to be optimistic heading into harvest.”