Missouri Wheat

Wheat acreage is down for 2019, resulting from a mix of bad weather last fall and economic factors. But growers are hoping the wheat crop can bounce back.

Missouri is looking at a smaller winter wheat crop this year, partly due to economics and party due to conditions last fall.

“There was not a lot of wheat planted last fall,” University of Missouri agronomist Greg Luce says.

The wheat crop is often tied to harvest progress and weather during the fall. The 2018 harvest was notoriously difficult in several parts of the state.

“As we got farther into harvest and the delays we had, there wasn’t time to get it in or for it to get very big,” Luce says.

According to the USDA’s Winter Wheat Seedings report, released Feb. 8, U.S. wheat acreage planted for harvest in 2019 is 31.3 million acres, down 4 percent from 2018. Of that, 22.2 million is hard red winter wheat, 5.66 million is soft red winter wheat and 3.44 million is white winter wheat.

In Missouri, there are 700,000 wheat acres planted for harvest in 2019, down from 740,000 in 2018, but higher than the 640,000 winter wheat acres in 2017, according to the USDA report.

Winter has also posed some challenges for the wheat crop, including bitter cold weather. Many parts of the state have also had ice on their wheat, which Luce says is not good for it.

“The acres that had snow cover will be better off than areas that didn’t (during the extreme cold),” he says. “The freezing and thawing we get from here on out can cause some problems, heaving things up and down.”

Luce says that “economics always play a role” when it comes to farmers deciding whether to plant wheat or go for a double crop with wheat and soybeans, but sometimes weather forces their hand.

“The portions of the state that grow the most wheat, in southwest Missouri and southeast Missouri, generally have enough time to get a double crop of beans planted (after wheat),” he says. “They had a lot of delays there and in central Missouri where they also grow a lot of wheat.”

Luce says some growers in Missouri are interested in starting a wheat growers association for the state, with a checkoff to generate funds to support wheat research efforts, including ongoing research at MU. Luce and others are hosting informational meetings around the state about the potential association.

He says these farmers focus on a more management-intensive, high-yield approach to growing wheat.

“They’re very serious about the wheat crop,” he says. “They put a lot into getting a high-yielding wheat crop.”

These efforts include fertilizer, phosphorous in the fall, timely applications of nitrogen and applying fungicide and insecticide as needed.

“It really responds well to management,” Luce says.

Missouri usually ranks between 11th and 15th in total wheat production, although the state is the top producer of soft red winter wheat.

In Missouri, wheat is usually grown as part of a double-crop effort with soybeans. Luce says wheat has other benefits.

“It’s good for reducing erosion, but also adding a lot of carbon back into the soil,” he says. “Wheat’s good for the soil.”

The tough weather in the fall may have caused some stand issues with the wheat, but growers will have a good idea of their stand later on, Luce says.

“They’ll be able to tell by the time it starts to green up whether they’ve got a good stand or not,” he says.

Despite the weather challenges, Luce says wheat is a resourceful crop and can be an especially good choice for hilly or marginal land, because it reduces erosion and can thrive in tougher conditions.

Luce and farmers across the state are hoping this year’s wheat crop can bounce back.

“We didn’t get off to a great start,” he says. “A lot of the wheat got put in late. … We didn’t get a lot of fall growth. We need it to grow a lot this spring.”

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