8th Annual Delta Wheat Tour

 May 13-14, 2003                   sponsored by Wheat Quality Council                        written by J. Quinton


The Delta wheat crop is not very big this year. Acreage was severely reduced last fall when inclement weather prevented planting. One observer summarizes it this way:  perhaps 20% of the crop was planted during October and made a good stand with satisfactory tiller numbers; another 60% was planted after the optimum time and suffered a much-reduced tiller count; and the last 20% planted went into the ground so late that the stand failed and these fields have been abandoned. Comparing harvested acres in 2002 with likely acreage for harvest this season, the region is looking at about a 25% drop. Arkansas, Mississippi, the Missouri Bootheel counties, and Tennessee harvested about 1,665,000 acres last year. We think this year approximately 1,250,000 acres will be cut for grain (the Bootheel may harvest less than 250,000 acres).

Yield prospects this spring are a bit improved from last year’s low levels. While there are significantly fewer tiller numbers this year, head size is visibly closer to normal. Last year the Tour found an elevated tiller population due in large part to the widespread practice of broadcast seeding. More than half of the 91 samples taken last year were from broadcast fields whereas this year only a third of the 93 samples taken were from broadcast fields. Tillers were so crowded last year that head size was negatively impacted. Furthermore, monsoon rains during late April and early May in 2002 badly leached fertilizers resulting in even smaller head size. The ratio between tiller numbers and yield potential in 2002 dropped to about ¾ to1 or about 75%. This year the ratio appears to be about 1:1 and that is normal. Grain quality

has the potential to be quite good yet, depending on weather during the harvest window. Disease pressures are not so heavy this year, especially north of I-40.

Our annual wheat tours utilize two primary yield observations: tiller counts and head size. We objectively count the number of tillers per square foot. However, we can only judge head size subjectively. Fortunately we attract experienced eyes to this tour every year. So the information gathered and shared with the public is usually on the mark and pretty timely.

We like to emphasize that these tours provide supplemental information to official production estimates. USDA statisticians in each state have the resources and the ability to more accurately estimate yields. They take the time for more thorough measurement and they carefully conduct truly random sampling. Yet these Annual Tours are valuable for the wheat community because the crop may change rapidly during mid-May. A look into wheat fields at this critical time often helps producers adjust their marketing decisions and logistical preparations for the coming harvest. And farmers are typically the last to know when their wheat crop has a surprise in it. They’re too busy with spring fieldwork to look into wheat fields this way. Yet private crop estimates are prepared for large commercial firms ahead of official crop estimates each season to follow fast-changing crop situations. Unless this type of information is collected and reported out to farmers, they’re the ones in the dark. In that spirit we are grateful for coverage given the Tours by the farm media throughout the region. 

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Review of Previous Delta Wheat Tour Results vs 2003 Data Set:
WQC Tour average tiller counts per square foot (multiple states)










7-yr avg tiller counts



Delta          (Ark/MO/TN/MS)













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