La. wheat acreage down, but weed control, disease management can help producers

Mary Ann Van Osdell, Hollier, Clayton A., Williams, Billy James, Boquet, Donald J., Hutchinson, Robert L., Twidwell, Edward K.  |  4/21/2009 7:17:20 PM

News Release Distributed 04/21/09

WINNSBORO, La. – Louisiana farmers planted less wheat than last year, but early herbicide applications and disease control can aid producers, LSU AgCenter experts said at the annual wheat and oat field day at the Macon Ridge Research Station April 15.

The current wheat crop is estimated at 210,000 acres, less than last year’s 400,000 acres, according to LSU AgCenter wheat specialist Dr. Ed Twidwell. He said last year’s wheat acreage was “incredibly high” – the largest since 1985 and second largest ever.

Twidwell said fertilizer prices kept some farmers from planting wheat this growing season.

He said farmers have been sweating out low temperatures the last couple of weeks, but he doesn’t expect much freeze damage. Areas that have received a lot of rain may see stunted wheat, and some of the wheat has been blown down, Twidwell said.

Last year’s average wheat yield was 57 bushels per acre, he said.

“This year I am not sure we are going to reach that. If I had to guess, I would say upper 40s,” Twidwell said. “I don’t think the wheat is quite as good as it was last year.”

International wheat supplies are good, but economists are saying prices are stable, Twidwell said.

“What it’s going to be like this fall when you start to make planting decisions, who knows?” he said. But hopefully the prices will remain relatively stable.”

The past few weeks of rain have brought an increase in diseases, including leaf and stem rusts, said Dr. Clayton Hollier, LSU AgCenter plant pathologist.

Stem rust generally appears late in the season, but overall across the state it really doesn’t cause that much of a problem, he said.

Wheat residue management was a new topic this year. Dr. Don Boquet, an LSU AgCenter agronomist, explained the benefits of keeping wheat stubble on the field rather than burning it off.

Residue reduces soil erosion by absorbing energy of raindrop impacts and slowing surface water movement, he said. Other benefits include reducing runoff of plant nutrients, conserving soil water, improving water infiltration, increasing soil organic matter and increasing crop yields.

Boquet said most of the nutrients will remain on the field in the residue after harvest, while 40 to 80 percent are lost in burning. The fertilizer value of nutrients in wheat residue is $96 per acre, he added.

Dr. Bill Williams, an LSU AgCenter weed scientist, reminded growers that most weeds can be controlled with properly timed herbicide application.

Wild onion and garlic are hard to distinguish, Williams said. “Wild onion has flat, solid stems while garlic is round and hollow.”

The field day included an overview of how the state’s economic situation could affect agricultural research and extension.

Over the last 10 years the LSU AgCenter has faced budget cuts that accounted for the loss of 300 positions, said Dr. Bob Hutchinson, LSU AgCenter regional director.

“The frightening thing that we are looking at right now is that for next fiscal year, if we see a 20.3 percent cut in state funding, we are going to lose an additional 300 positions throughout the LSU AgCenter,” Hutchinson said. “We could conceivably lose as many positions over the next few months as we lost over the past 10 years.

“All of us would agree that agricultural research is extremely important for profitability of our producers,” Hutchinson said. “We are extremely fortunate that we have some of the best county agents who put information in the hands of clientele.”

Hutchinson said cuts don’t affect institutions of higher learning equally because the LSU AgCenter doesn’t have income from tuition or fees.

“Make sure that our legislators, the governor’s office and the Board of Regents understand that when we look at the budget cuts, we don’t have a disproportionate cut to the LSU AgCenter,” he said.

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Mary Ann Van Osdell 

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