October 18, 2006 | By: Laura Skillman
PRINCETON, Ky.

As Kentucky farmers plant their winter wheat, many may be remembering the record yields of the previous crop as well as its continued strong economic prospects.

In Kentucky, the 2006 wheat crop totaled an estimated 22.7 million bushels, the largest crop in five years. The statewide yield average of 71 bushels per acre set a record, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Kentucky Field Office.

Kentucky’s yields have seen dramatic increases in the past two decades and that can be attributed in part to teamwork, said Lloyd Murdock, University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Extension specialist for plant and soil sciences.

The first step was taken when a Kentucky agribusiness developed a scouting and applied research program. With that emphasis, yields began to increase. Next came UK’s concentrated emphasis on the crop with development of its multidisciplinary Wheat Science Group, Murdock said. Soon afterward, UK specialists, agribusiness consultants and the Kentucky Small Grain Growers’ Association started working as a team on many research and educational efforts.

“Kentucky now has excellent research and education programs on wheat with well informed and productive producers,” Murdock said. “Wheat yields have reached the 70 bushels per acre range and Kentucky leads the nation in the percentage of acres planted through no-till production methods.”

Improved yields across Kentucky may be a factor in how many acres will be planted in winter wheat in the coming weeks. But the biggest factor is strong prices for the commodity, he said.

The prospects for good pricing for the crop are based on a much smaller world crop than experienced the past two years and very strong demand, said Steve Riggins, UK Extension grain marketing specialist. Several major wheat exporting nations have experienced production problems during the past several months, and Australia and Argentina are concerned about lack of moisture for their wheat crops.

This sharply reduced production, coupled with stable domestic demand and growing global wheat use, has resulted in a significant draw-down in global and U.S. projected ending stocks (the amount on hand), Riggins said.

Stocks in the United States by next summer are projected to be reduced to well below 450 million bushels – the smallest since the mid-1990s when wheat prices exceeded $5 per bushel. Global wheat stocks are projected to decline to only 126 million metric tons by next summer. Stocks this summer were listed at 146 million metric tons, and last year global wheat carryover stocks were recorded as 151.5 million metric tons.

These factors will help support good wheat prices until it becomes apparent that global wheat production is rising in response to strong prices, Riggins said.

U.S farmers are expected to increase acres seeded to winter wheat this fall. The U.S. Department of Agriculture will issue its acreage planting projections in early January 2007. Kentucky wheat planting intentions are not available, but Murdock said he expects acreage to grow substantially from the 310,000 acres harvested this year.

“I don’t think it will reach the 500,000 acres we once grew, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it reach halfway between the two,” he said.

Contact: 

Lloyd Murdock, 270-365-7541, ext. 207
               Steve Riggins, 859-257-7256