Soggy Fields Soak Up Profits

first_img“We’re hoping farmers can get 250,000 to 280,000 acres planted this year,”said Dewey Lee, an extension agronomist withthe UGA College of Agricultural and EnvironmentalSciences. “That’s just about two-thirds of last year’s 400,000 acre crop.”Not since the 1979 crop of only 210,000 acres have wheat farmers planted such a smallcrop. Although Georgia farmers never raise enough wheat to significantly affect the wholesaleprice of wheat and flour on international markets, a half crop will affect the farmers. “There will certainly be a loss of farm income,” Lee said.George Shumaker, a CAES economist,estimates Georgia wheat farmers will lose about $18 million in total income from thisshort crop. “If it’s not planted, they can’t harvest it,” he said. Shumaker based the loss estimate on how much farmers would earn if they had been ableto plant and harvest a full crop. That loss doesn’t include the loss of wages to farmworkers and extra help at millers, either.Wet weather from late September through December has farmers still trying to harvestcotton and soybean fields. Until they can get those crops out of the fields, wheat andother small grains can’t be planted.And even in harvested fields, Lee said the saturated, soggy soil won’t support theweight of planting equipment.”We’re at the point now, that I’m telling farmers that if they can’t get wheatplanted before the third week of December, to not even try to get in there,” Leesaid. After that point, the cost to grow and manage the crop well is greater than thepotential income, and farmers could actually lose money.He explains that in the seven to 14 days after the ideal planting window for wheat, theyield potential drops by 15 to 20 percent. From 15 to 21 days after the planting window,the potential yield drops by almost half.”That’s true no matter what variety you plant,” he said. With less than half of Georgia’s typical crop to buy and use next spring, flour millersacross the Southeast will have to buy wheat from other areas. Lee said Georgia farmersplant mostly soft, red winter wheat. This wheat is milled into flour used in soft bakedgoods like doughnuts, cookies and cakes. “A lot of Georgia’s wheat ends up on Georgia families’ tables,” said Lee.”But, this year, that won’t be the case.” The Georgia shortage will forcemillers to bring more wheat in from other areas, Lee said. He said the farmer’s andmiller’s problems will have little to no effect on the price of baked goods for consumers.But reduced acreage is just one problem wheat farmers face. Soggy fields make growingwheat and other small grains more difficult.”Continued wet weather will really tax farmers’ management,” Lee said.”They’ll have to carefully time nutrient applications and manage to increasetillers.” Rain can wash away pesticides, nitrogen or other nutrients, too. Wet soil also limits wheat growth. Soggy soil keeps oxygen away from roots, preventinggood root system development. Without good roots, the plant can’t absorb nutrients andproduce enough heads for high yields.”It’s already started out as a tough year for small grains producers inGeorgia,” Lee said. “All we can do now is hope the weather cooperates so thewheat that is planted can produce a good crop.” Unusually wet fall weather has Georgia wheat farmers planting their smallest crops inalmost 20 years, said a University of Georgia agronomist.last_img