COLUMBUS, Ohio - Ohio's first wheat production forecast is down 10 percent compared to last year, continuing the state's trend of a shrinking crop the past several years.
According to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service Farm Report, growers are expected to produce 54.5 million bushels of wheat, a 5.9 million-bushel drop from 2001. Average state yield is expected to reach 66 bushels per acre, one bushel less than last year's harvest.
Matt Roberts, an Ohio State University agricultural economist, said poor profitability compared to corn and soybeans might be a factor behind the steady decline in Ohio's wheat production.
"When you compare wheat to corn and soybeans, for most places in Ohio, wheat is not going to be as profitable of a crop," said Roberts. "Farmers who look at wheat production one year at a time see they just make more money running a corn/soybean rotation. When you look at a one-year time window, wheat will almost always be less profitable." He said large wheat producing states further west are profitable in wheat production because soil and weather conditions make it difficult to produce any other crop. "Ohio, however, has very good soils that are favorable for growing other more profitable crops and growers can just get better yields with corn or soybeans over a one-year time span." Wheat production in Ohio has been in a steady decline since 1996. Where five to six years ago growers were harvesting a million to 1.2 million acres, growers are only expected to harvest 825,000 acres in 2002. That number is an 8 percent drop compared to last year's harvest and a 5 percent decline from this year's 870,000-acre seeding estimate.
"We lost some of those acres over winter due to disease problems and wet conditions in northwest Ohio," said Pat Lipps, an Ohio State Extension plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center in Wooster, Ohio. "Not all of those acres were replanted, so we will see a drop between harvested acres and planted acres." Lipps also maintains that low wheat prices compared to other commodities, as well as a strong price support system for soybeans, is behind the significant drop in wheat acreage.
"Those are probably the two most important factors. There is also a third factor involved what I'd call a production-type factor in that growers are moving towards reduced tillage and no-till systems and they have a very difficult time managing corn planted into wheat straw," said Lipps.
He said that the straw acts as an insulator on the soil surface, holding in moisture longer into the spring, causing delayed planting and stand establishment problems with corn, as well as increased disease pressure.
"It makes it easier production-wise to remove wheat out of the rotation program," said Lipps. "Wheat, however, is an excellent rotation crop and a lot of farmers probably would like to move back to that rotational system if there was more of an economic benefit for them." The change in government loan rates in the 2002 Farm Bill may aid in that decision.
Roberts said the price increase for wheat and subsequent price decrease for corn and soybeans may have some effect on wheat acreage, but how much, if any, remains to be seen.
"I think that it will have a positive influence on wheat acres, especially when we are running into some problems with the number of acres of continuous soybeans increasing in the state," said Lipps. "Soil-borne diseases that follow continuous soybeans could be very critical in our state, so to have wheat in that rotation with corn provides even more of a period of time for those organisms to be managed." Overall wheat production in the United States is down 1.3 billion bushels, or four percent, compared to last year, according to the USDA report, the lowest production since 1978. Yield is forecasted at 43.1 bushels per acre, the lowest harvested acreage since 1917.
If Ohio's wheat crop stays true to the numbers, it would account for 4 percent of the total U.S. soft red winter wheat. Ohio ranks seventh overall among all winter wheat-producing states and produces some of the highest quality soft red winter wheat sought after by millers and bakers.