Wheat growers

Wheat growers gathered on June 7 in Cooper County for a field day to talk about wheat and ways to manage the crop. 

BUNCETON, Mo. — A light breeze drifted across a waving wheat field on David Brumback’s Cooper County farm. Wheat growers, University of Missouri Extension personnel and seed dealers had gathered for their 12th annual wheat field day.

Mel Gerber, a Morgan County farmer who helped organize the field day, says some wheat in the state has great potential this year.

“We just looked at some great-looking wheat following corn,” he says. “I expect the wheat that survived the winter — and not all of it did — but the wheat that survived the winter, we may have a bin buster on those acres.”

Gerber says it was difficult in some areas of the state to get wheat planted in a timely manner, and the later-planted wheat didn’t seem to be doing as well this year.

“If your wheat looks great, wonderful,” he says. “If your wheat has struggled, you are not alone.”

The growers and people in the wheat industry talked about variety selection, wheat management strategies and the possibility of forming a Missouri Wheat Association with a checkoff to support wheat research efforts.

“We’ve got a nice bunch of folks here looking at wheat, trying to understand how to grow wheat — high-quality wheat, high-yield wheat — for the human consumption market,” Gerber says.

He says the improving wheat management has played a role in the crop’s success this year, among other factors.

“The head fill was really great,” he says. “Disease was relatively low, and some of the management on this wheat has really improved over the last couple of years. And we are growing good wheat in Missouri, and we want to continue to do that.”

Matt Wehmeyer, director of sales and marketing for AgriMaxx, says growers need to invest in wheat to get high yields.

“If we treat wheat like a stepchild crop, it’ll soon find its way off the farm,” he says.

Gerber says farmers need to tailor their management to the variety of wheat they select.

Kaitlyn Bissonnette, MU Extension state field crop pathologist, spoke at the field day about disease concerns.

“There’s a lot of reports of scab around the state,” she says. It’s often low instances, but it is a widespread problem.

She also talked about the best timing for fungicide application, right at anthesis, or the flowering stage. If farmers can’t time it exactly, it’s better to apply a few days late.

“It is advantageous to apply a few days after anthesis instead of a few days before,” Bissonnette says.

Greg Luce, grain crops specialist for MU Extension, spoke about the possibility of forming a wheat growers association for Missouri, along with a checkoff to support research efforts. He says researchers have been looking a lot at scab resistance and ways to combat stripe rust, which has become a growing problem. Checkoff money would help advance the MU wheat breeding program and allow researchers to learn more about best management practices for growers, Luce says.

“Research that would help growers seems like a place where we would like to put that checkoff money,” he says.

Luce says a 2 cent per bushel checkoff would generate about $600,000 annually. There would be four districts — north, central, southwest and southeast — with two farmer representatives from each.

Missouri ranked 10th in bushels of wheat in 2017 and 11th in wheat acres for 2018. Even though acreage is down from the 1980s, when the state grew over 2 million acres of wheat annually, Gerber and Luce say it remains an important crop in the state. The USDA estimates Missouri has 700,000 wheat acres planted for harvest in 2019, compared with 740,000 in 2018 and 640,000 in 2017.

Wheat can have a lot of benefits for producers, Gerber says, beyond just yields.

“Wheat’s the cover crop that you get paid for,” he says. “It’s great for erosion control.”

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Ben Herrold is Missouri field editor, writing for Missouri Farmer Today, Iowa Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.