By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — It looks like Kentucky wheat production reached record levels this year as the soft red winter wheat season wrapped up.
Earlier this summer, the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) reported a forecast of 39.2 million bushels, a 35 percent increase over 2012 numbers.
The latest information from the University of Kentucky (UK) College of Agriculture, Food and Environment noted: “Kentucky farmers harvesting 580,000 acres of the 680,000 acres planted, for a total production of 42.3 million bushels of grain. A record average yield of 73 bushels per acre is expected.”
This was good news, even with wheat prices dropping from last year’s level. Don Hershman, a UK extension plant pathologist, said the growing season had few disease problems, making for a good crop.
“There really was fairly limited disease and that was pretty much across the board,” he said. “I think a lot of it was, we had moisture and it was cool.”
That’s not to say there weren’t times of concern, especially with all the rain in the spring. Hershman said with that there is always the potential for head scab (fusarium head blight, or FHB) but in the western part of the state, where most of the state’s wheat is grown, FHB was a non-factor.
For producers in the middle and eastern Kentucky, the problem was more prevalent, more so than in recent years, said Hershman. “There were some places that ended up with some significant disease,” he explained.
Though, he said the problems were sporadic in nature and controlled, for the most part. “Even in eastern Kentucky, where the greatest concern was, there wasn’t that big of an issue,” Hershman added.
As with most crops, the season this year was far different than in 2012 with its record drought conditions.
“It was really hot and dry (last year) and we really didn’t get any rain in April or May. Wheat can take a pretty good moisture deficiency and that’s the reason we didn’t have a total disaster,” he said. “But this year we’ve certainly had adequate moisture.”
And because of that, Kentucky’s wheat harvest ran behind, often by huge margins compared to last year. The June 16 NASS report showed the wheat harvest at only 6 percent as compared to 81 percent in 2012 and 30 percent for the five-year average. By the second week in July, however, 93 percent of the crop had been harvested – just slightly lower than the five-year average of 99 percent.
Overall, state wheat producers had about as good a growing season as possible, said Hershman. Nationally, the news was about the same. He wasn’t aware of too many problems anywhere.
But while Kentucky production is up, the NASS prediction showed the nation’s winter wheat crop would be down by 8 percent over last year, with an estimated 1.51 billion bushels.
For Tennessee producers, wheat planting increased by more than 30 percent over last year with expected production up by even more. NASS reported Tennessee wheat is forecast at 31.5 million bushels, up almost 50 percent from the previous season with a per-acre return of 67 bushels per acre. If that number holds, it would represent the second best on record.
Southern states in general look to be enjoying increased wheat production this year. Missouri was expecting about a 10 million-bushel increase over 2012, while North Carolina looked for a nearly 12 million-bushel increase, according to a June NASS report.
Georgia production was expected to rise by more than 8 million bushels, a fact being recognized at one of its major seaports. According to information from the Georgia Ports Authority (GPA), a bumper crop there has led to a “booming export business” at the Port of Brunswick.
“This is going to be a banner year, in the range of 90,000 to 100,000 tons of wheat moved across our docks at Colonel’s Island Terminal,” said GPA Executive Director Curtis Foltz. “Increased marketing to overseas buyers for domestic grain has contributed to a growing confidence among Georgia farmers to plant more wheat.”