2002 Wheat Quality Council – Delta Soft Winter Wheat Tour
May 14-15, 2002           by Jim Quinton


Tour participants gathered in Little Rock, Arkansas, divided into tiller counting teams and traveled on various routes through the Delta. The Tour does not look at the entire wheat crop in any soft wheat state because acreage is widely dispersed. To make the most of limited time and resources, only counties with the highest concentrations of wheat acres are sampled. There is a high bias in the summary numbers.

Merely counting tillers is not enough for accurate yield forecasting. Head size and kernel weights are two additional yield factors that Tour participants are unable to measure or estimate effectively. This is because the Tour is conducted while heads are still being formed. However, preliminary yield ranges can be obtained through simple tiller counting. A useful rule of thumb for winter wheat is to equate approximately one bushel per acre of yield potential for each tiller per square foot. The one-to-one ratio may be tweaked upward or downward according to growing conditions immediately following the heading phase. Severe drought stress or heavy disease pressures would dictate that a ratio of something less than 1:1 be used. Very favorable conditions and corresponding larger than normal head size might lead to a ratio of 1¼ bushels per tiller or more.

In that spirit, we gather as many tiller counts from as many counties as we possibly can during each year’s Tour. We also record observations of disease pressure, soil moisture condition, and other pertinent remarks. More often than not, when Tour participants encounter growers while they’re out on the crop scout trail we gain additional insights into the prospects for each year’s crop.  

Arkansas and neighboring states’ wheat counties appear to have so-so yield prospects this season. However, the BIG story is the abandonment of flooded wheat acres. Perhaps as many as 25% of acres seeded last fall will not be harvested. Generally speaking,

  surviving wheat fields may have stronger yield potential to the north and east of I-70 while poorer yields appear to be in prospect to the south of this highway. Though a number of high-yielding fields were found, the majority were just mediocre.  

The average tiller count for the entire Tour this year isn’t much different than last year’s statistic. We found an average of 61.5 tillers per square foot this year compared to 58.1 per square foot last year in these selected counties. I would say that there is not a significant difference in 2002 yield prospects overall because the slightly elevated tiller count this year resulted from an unusually high proportion of fields that were broadcast last fall. Over-crowded stands resulted and that tends to stunt average head size. During the 2001 Delta Wheat Tour the proportion of sampled fields that had been broadcast was only 34% whereas this year we found 53% of sampled fields were broadcast, skewing the overall tiller count slightly upward.








6-yr avg


Delta          (AR/MO/TN/MS/LA)









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