WOOSTER, Ohio - Ohio wheat growers may be bucking the trend of several years of shrinking wheat production.
Summer drought reeking havoc on corn and soybeans, along with favorable wheat prices and more attention given to wheat in the new Farm Bill, has sparked renewed interest in growing the crop in the state.
Pat Lipps, an Ohio State University plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, said that planted acres could jump to over one million next growing season, an estimated 13 percent increase from the 870,000 acres that were planted last year.
"It wouldn't take very many more people interested in planting wheat to go well over a million acres," said Lipps. "When the seedsmen are telling me they are already selling out of seed, that indicates there's probably enough people wanting to plant wheat that we could reach that projection." Lipps said the interest in wheat sounds promising for the overall productivity of farming operations in Ohio. "It would be a good thing because it would get growers back into crop rotation, essential for keeping weeds, insects and diseases under control," he said. "It would also ease concerns of lower wheat production trends in the milling and baking industries in the state." Because of poor weather conditions impacting corn and soybeans, wheat may turn out to be the best crop for growers this year.
"The wheat was harvested before the really bad part of the drought began," said Lipps. "The price of wheat is also up, so when you're looking at a wheat crop that you can get 80-90 bushels off at a reasonable price, versus soybeans where you're only looking at 20 bushels, crop production reads as a very different story for growers." Where the drought may have initially helped the wheat crop, it could also be detrimental to its success as planting fast approaches. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), dry conditions are expected to plague Ohio through October. Wheat planting normally gets under way the end of the September.
"If it stays dry, it could reverse growers' decisions to plant wheat," said Lipps. "Which means a grower will go back to soybeans next year and the obvious ramifications of that would be no crop rotation. So we'd be in the same ballpark as we are right now with over a million acres of continuous soybeans and the problems with soybean cyst nematode, Phytophthora and other diseases." Lipps recommends growers plant after the Hessian fly safe date for their county but attempt to plant wheat by the end of the second week of October.
"Wheat will come up in fairly dry soil, but it's a tough situation. The seed will germinate, but the plant is very slow growing, so it allows dry soil pathogens like Fusarium to come in and infect the plant," he said. "When planting into dry soil it is very important to use fungicide-treated wheat seed, because the seed may have to sit in the soil for awhile and wait for moisture." Growers should stick to planting an inch to an inch and a half deep to protect the plants from drying and wetting fluctuations present at the soil surface.
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 only harvested 800,000 acres in 2002, down 100,000 acres from last year. This year's total production of 49.6 million bushels was down 18 percent from last year and down 38 percent from 2000.
Ohio ranks seventh overall among all winter wheat-producing states in the United States and produces some of the highest quality soft red winter wheat sought after by millers and bakers.