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Where Have All the Wheat Acres Gone?

At the risk of showing my age, the above title is a takeoff on a 1960's Pete Seeger-composed song titled “Where have all the flowers gone” that was made famous (to me) in the early 1960's by the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary. However, the subject of this narrative will neither touch the subject matter of that song nor reap the riches that it did for its composer and performers.

The southeastern US has long been known as the US region suited for soybean/wheat doublecropping because of suitable winter weather for wheat and a significant soybean acreage available for wheat to follow in a doublecrop rotation. Thus, doublecropping was a significant cropping system in years past. However, that has now changed in some parts of the region.

Data in the below table show the following trends.

•    From 2013 to 2017, all shown states had wheat acreage declines of 50% or more.

•    A significant portion of the soybean acreage in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi in 2017 (6.92 million total soybean acres) was planted before early May, and 70% or more of those states’ soybean acreage was planted by the end of May. Thus, early soybean planting has become the paradigm in these states, and this precludes planting a large soybean acreage following wheat, which is generally harvested in early June. This is confirmed by the very low percentage of wheat acres in relation to soybean acres in these states in 2017.

•    Conversely, the other shown southeastern states (6.765 million total soybean acres) had only a small portion of their soybean crop planted by early May in 2017, and no more than half of any of the states’ acreage was planted by late May. Thus, a significant portion of those states’ soybean acreage would have been available for planting wheat following the soybean crop. This is generally confirmed by the higher percentage of wheat acres in relation to soybean acres in these states in 2017.

•    Five-year average soybean yields in the Midsouth states of Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi generally indicate that the earlier planting in those states is associated with greater soybean yields than in the other shown states. Producers are likely to consider the economic implications of this when deciding whether or not to grow soybean as a monocrop or in rotation with wheat.

•    The data in the table indicate that soybean production in the Midsouth states vs. in the other southeastern states is conducted with a different philosophy that has resulted in a drastic reduction in the region’s wheat acres.

Five-year (2013-2017) average soybean planting progress on indicated dates, soybean yield, and wheat acreage for indicated SE US states, plus 2017 wheat acreage as a percentage of 2017 soybean acreage (all data from NASS).

 

 

Planting

 

Planting

Soybean

Wheat acreage

% of Soy

State

Date

Progress

Date

Progress

yield

2013

2017

5-yr. avg.

acreage*

Arkansas

May 5-7

38

May 28-30

69

48.0

610,000

125,000

297,000

3.6

Louisiana

May 5-7

55

May 28-30

86

49.7

255,000

13,000

106,000

1.0

Mississippi

May 5-7

51

May 28-30

81

49.0

385,000

25,000

159,000

1.2

Alabama

May 5-7

18

May 28-30

51

40.5

285,000

100,000

200,000

29.0

Tennessee

May 5-7

14

May 28-30

50

46.7

575,000

275,000

411,000

16.6

Kentucky

May 5-7

12

May 28-30

41

49.9

610,000

310,000

454,000

16.0

Georgia

May 5-7

9

May 28-30

43

39.1

360,000

70,000

183,000

46.7

S. Carolina

May 5-7

12

May 28-30

48

31.8

265,000

75,000

154,000

19.2

N. Carolina

May 5-7

8

May 28-30

43

36.1

925,000

375,000

599,000

22.2

Virginia

May 5-7

8

May 28-30

35

38.5

290,000

145,000

216,000

24.6

*2017 wheat acreage as % of 2017 soybean acreage. 2017 soybean acreage not shown but can be viewed here.

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, Jan. 2018, larryheatherly@bellsouth.net