5TH Annual Coastal Plains
Wheat Tour
May 7, 2003                       sponsored by the Wheat Quality Council                       written by J. Quinton


The Coastal Carolina wheat crop has reduced acreage and quite limited yield prospects for the 2003 harvest. Most of the problems stem from major delays in seeding last fall. Aggregate winter wheat seedings were down 8% from 2002 for the six-state area (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the Carolinas, and Georgia). Acres to be harvested for grain may be down even further because of an increase in failed acres in many counties.

Because much of the crop germinated after the prime period for fall tillering (and because spring tillering was limited also), the average tiller count came in more than 10% below last year’s Tour results in North Carolina– 50.9 this year versus 56.8 in 2002. (Tiller counts from touring neighboring states were either too few or non-existent). We think that pattern extends up into Coastal Virginia counties and the Eastern Shore. 

Head size also appears to have been significantly limited. Floret numbers and the number of kernels per floret are down this year. Saturated soils last fall and again this spring resulted in shallow rooting. Fertilizers were also leached downward. The impact is reduced head length and a lack of vigor during the key kernel forming period on many acres.

Disease pressure is building up though the bulk of the crop is quickly growing past this threat. Maturity ranged from milk stage to late boot from south to north across the area. This is about a week behind normal crop progress. 

While the quantity of wheat produced is going to be smaller it doesn’t necessarily follow that grain quality will be an issue. Kernel weight can be enhanced when there are fewer berries coming on. Crop quality is still vulnerable to inclement at harvest though. After wheat is mature nothing good happens, insofar as grain quality is concerned, beyond that point. Wetting and re-wetting causes test weight loss and often weathers the grain. Getting a mature crop out of the field early, even though grain moisture levels may be too high for safe storage, usually reduces risk of quality deterioration as long as grain drying is carefully done. 

The best yields this year may be in areas that were hard hit last year. South and west of Greenville down into South Carolina wheat was stressed by severe drought in 2002. Lack of moisture is not a problem for these counties this year. In 2002 the area north and east of Greenville enjoyed high tiller counts and good head size. Average yields in Virginia, Maryland, and Delaware came in above average. This year acres to the north suffered the worst planting weather and had more water damage. Seedings up there fell short of intentions by the widest margin. That’s also where abandonment – switching to other crops – is likely to be greatest. We would surmise up to 25% of last fall’s reduced seedings may not be harvested for grain in some areas this season. The net effect on Coastal Plains production isn’t likely to beat last year’s 62 million bushels for the six-state total.

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Review of Previous Coastal Plains Tours vs 2003 Data Set:


WQC Tour average tillers per square foot





(selected counties within these states)






4-yr Avg












South Carolina









North Carolina



























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