As I normally do every spring, I started visiting wheat fields in the area sometime around the middle of February, just looking for whatever might be going on there. This year I found something different from what I had become used to in recent years. The “joint” in even the oldest wheat was not even close to moving. In more correct terms, the wheat was not approaching “internode-elongation” as it usually is by that time.
We are all aware that we have had a very cold winter, one of the coldest in a long time. The extended cold period and the severity of the cold temperatures kept wheat plants in a dormant state for at least two weeks longer than usual. This “deeper” dormancy actually protected the plants from damage, but delayed the initiation of “green-up” that in most years begins sometime around the middle of February. This year wheat did not green up or begin internode elongation until the first week of March.
This will probably mean that the wheat harvest will begin at least two or even three weeks later than in most years. Our usual wheat harvest dates in Mississippi range from early to mid-June, but this year our wheat harvest may linger on into late June or even the early part of July.
This later harvest will delay the establishment of soybeans that are commonly planted after wheat. Grain sorghum may also be planted following some of the wheat this year. Either crop can be successful given good management and timely rains.
The only consideration that may be prudent is that with this delay growers may need to go with a mid- Group 5 soybean variety rather than the late Group 4s we use in most cases. As I have said before, a late Group 4 will probably perform well, but if the grower has the opportunity to select a variety specifically for this situation the mid Group 5 may have a slight advantage. Don’t forget to pick an STS variety for fields where Finesse herbicide was used.
I started this article by saying that the late wheat may be a plus, and then I went into the problems it may cause. But if we experience an Easter cold period as we often do the later wheat will likely avoid the damage it might sustain if it had headed on the normal schedule. As we sit today, it looks like we may have temperatures in the frost range this week, but not low enough to threaten our wheat. In most years the young man who portrays Jesus in our annual Passion Play spends about thirty minutes freezing on the cross on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. Maybe this year it won’t be so tough on him.
This year the main weather issue is excessive rainfall. I am adding these last paragraphs after the time when I have usually completed this work, but as I am writing this Monday evening another four to six inches of rain have fallen in fields that received around that same amount at the end of last week. I have seen wheat fields starting to head and emerging corn covered with flood water once within a week, and now these same fields and more will likely be flooded for a second time. We will have to wait and see how these fields look after this second round, but this is not the way we like to see a crop year begin.
If there is consolation, it is that in the past we have seen years that started off with difficulties like these, only to end well with good yields and fair profits. Let’s hope and pray this one follows that pattern as well. I don’t think there is anyone who would disagree that the soil profile is well charged with moisture this year.