Stephen Harrison, Guidry, Kurt M., Benedict, Linda F. | 9/22/2006 9:07:32 PM
Louisiana farmers will plant a lot more wheat this year than last. At least that’s what LSU AgCenter experts predict – provided the weather cooperates in October and November.
The reason for increased interest in growing wheat is the higher prices it’s drawing, which is in sharp contrast to the below-average prices for just about every other crop grown in the state.
"We’re seeing tremendous prices right now," said Dr. Steve Harrison, LSU AgCenter researcher in charge of wheat breeding.
An LSU AgCenter economist says the increases stem from supply and demand.
"Worldwide, we’re seeing the lowest wheat ending stock levels experienced in the past 20 years," said Dr. Kurt Guidry, LSU AgCenter economist. "So prices have gone up."
The new crop wheat futures contract price (July 2007) is currently trading at nearly $4.50 per bushel, which is about a $1 higher than this time last year. In the futures market, speculators buy wheat to lock in prices they think will go even higher.
"There’s wheat booked up through 2009," Harrison said. "This is very unusual. Typically, wheat is not forward-contracted much more than six months ahead."
Louisiana growers planted roughly 110,000 acres of wheat last year. The expectation is double that this year, Harrison said. The five-year average is about 200,000 acres in wheat in the state.
"Back in 1985, there were about 500,000 acres in wheat because prices were at $5 per bushel," Harrison said. But the acreage steadily declined after that – until the past few years.
Most of the Louisiana acreage is planted in a variety developed at the LSU AgCenter – LA841 – which was released in 2002.
"One dealer told me all he supplies is LA841 because that’s what his customers want," Harrison said.
The LSU AgCenter’s recommendations for wheat varieties to plant this fall are available from parish AgCenter extension offices or at www.lsuagcenter.com. Go to the "Wheat and Oat" link. The recommendations for North Louisiana and South Louisiana are slightly different because of different growing conditions and disease pressure.
North Louisiana growers start planting wheat Oct. 1, and South Louisiana growers begin Nov. 1.
The LSU AgCenter established a wheat and oat breeding program in 1985 as private companies got out of the business of variety development for these small grains.
"We were faced with the prospect of no wheat and oat varieties suitable for Louisiana," Harrison said. "Our producers need the option of growing wheat and oats to stay in business. They need the flexibility to grow crops other than cotton, corn and soybeans, depending on prices."
Since the establishment of the program, the LSU AgCenter has developed 10 new wheat and oat varieties during the past 10 years. Harrison has been awarded eight plant variety protection (PVP) certificates, which are the plant breeding business’ equivalent of patents.
To expand the program, Harrison helped establish a region-wide small-grain breeding program called SUNGRAINS, short for Southeastern University Grains. This consortium includes the small-grain breeding programs of the University of Florida, University of Georgia, Clemson University and North Carolina Sate University along with the LSU AgCenter.
Collectively, the breeders from these university programs have released 34 wheat, 14 oat, five rye and six triticale varieties.