October 23, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

Planting of winter wheat is underway in Kentucky and acreage will likely increase this year as long as the weather cooperates.

Wheat harvested for grain in the state dipped to 340,000 acres with the 2001-2002 crop, its lowest level since 1987. But with improved prices, acreage is expected to be up this year, said James Herbek, grains specialist with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service.

Wheat prices are the best that farmers have seen in about five years, Herbek said, which is the impetus for some farmers to up their acreage. Low prices in the past drove many to reduce acreage.

Wheat seeding has been slowed some this fall because of wet conditions with an estimated 38 percent planted as of Oct. 20, compared to the five-year average of 49 percent, according to the Kentucky Agricultural Statistics Service.

The wet conditions are somewhat of a mixed blessing, Herbek said.

“We needed the rain because of our droughty summer and needed the rain to get the wheat acres planted, but October has been well above normal in rainfall,” he said. “From that standpoint, it has slowed planting. Hopefully, things will dry out somewhat and we can get back on par.”

But there’s still plenty of time to get the wheat planted.

“Generally, we like to get our planting done by the end of October for optimum grain yields, but we can plant well into November, if need be,” Herbek said. “The result

will depend on the remaining fall weather.”

If it remains relatively cool the potential for November planting isn’t as good but if we have an extended mild, moderate fall, then yield potential is greater. The key is to have the plant begin tillering before going into dormancy during the winter months. If it does not begin putting out tillers until spring, it reduces the plant’s yield potential. Also, November plantings will be a few days later in maturity.

“October has been somewhat low in temperatures and if that continues, we won’t see as much growth as we’d like to see going into winter,” he said.

Kentucky is well suited for winter wheat production with farmers able to produce good yields as well as plant a second crop in the same year on the same field. The state average is around 60 bushels per acre.

“Wheat is a good part of our cropping system in this state, particularly in the western part where the majority of our wheat is double-cropped usually with soybeans,” Herbek said.

The wheat crop also provides some cash flow in the summer months when other crops have only just been planted.

A number of acres in the state are planted in wheat for purposes other than grain production including being cut for hay and silage or for a cover crop on tobacco patches. The total number of acres planted in wheat in Kentucky a year ago was 550,000.


James Herbek, (270) 365-7541