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Rising acres

Winter wheat is gaining acres as Northern Plains growers
assess their 2008 options.

At press time, the survey of seeded acres had not been
completed in North Dakota. But some speculate that winter wheat acres jumped
50% to 100% from a year ago, says Jim Peterson, North Dakota Wheat Commission
marketing director. 

“In Montana, winter wheat acres are going to be up quite
strong,” he says. “The market will need to ensure it’s got a pretty attractive
spring wheat price next spring to help pull back some of those spring wheat
acres from other crops.”

In the tristate area of Minnesota, North and South Dakota,
USDA reports show growers had a strong interest in producing more winter wheat
for 2007. Harvested acres and yields both increased by about 80%.

South Dakota harvested acres increased to 1,980,000 from
1,150,000 a year earlier. North Dakota harvested acres shot up to 445,000 from
180,000 in 2006. Even Minnesota increased – acres grew to 60,000 from 45,000 a
year earlier.

Based on fall seeding, it appeared that North Dakota growers
had seeded another increase that will likely rival the previous record of
750,000 acres, says Peterson.

Winter wheat yields are up 

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In the Northern Plains, winter wheat yields are looking
better every year, as compared to spring wheat.

For instance, the 2007 North Dakota State University trials
at Lisbon saw spring wheat averaging 61 bushels per acre as compared to 79
bushels per acre for winter wheat. The North Dakota average yield for 2007
winter wheat was 50 bushels per acre, up by 6 bushels from 2006, and 14 bushels
above the 2007 spring wheat average.

Inputs are similar for winter wheat. The timing for field
operations is favorable. Plus, markets this past year paid just as much or more
per bushel.

“The northern winter wheat crop was being pulled hard into
some of those markets traditionally supplied by Kansas and Oklahoma because
they had an April freeze and a disappointing crop,” Peterson says. “Historically,
spring wheat has held a pretty good premium to winter wheat. But last year our
winter wheat price, at times, was at a slight premium to spring wheat.”

September markets gave winter wheat a premium of 20¢ to 30¢
a bushel across Montana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.

Promising in Minnesota, too

Winter wheat even has a good toehold in Minnesota. “It’s
still dwarfed by spring wheat, but we’ve seen a steady uptake in acres here,”
says Jochum Wiersma, University of Minnesota Extension agronomist.

A core of growers in southern Minnesota and in the northern
part of the Red River Valley are “getting very comfortable” with winter wheat,
says Wiersma. Seeding there has been shooting upward, from 20,000 acres in 2005
to 65,000 acres for 2007.

A 10-year North Dakota study has sparked interest in
Minnesota.

“It clearly shows winter wheat was more profitable than
spring wheat” across southern areas, Wiersma says.

Now, university researchers are cooperating with Ducks
Unlimited and grower associations in trials at three locations in Minnesota and
one in North Dakota, looking at inputs and best farming practices for winter
wheat.

Winter wheat has more risk

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On the other hand, there is a place for caution. Winter
wheat is more volatile. Markets have discounted it by $1 per bushel in some
years. Winterkill still can cut yields, even with improved genetics.

“Variables need to work in your favor,” Wiersma says. “We’ve
had pretty mild winter conditions and haven’t had a lot of severe icing or
spring cold snaps.”

It’s also important to select disease-resistant varieties
where diseases are a problem. In South Dakota, for example, leaf rust clipped
yields in susceptible winter wheat varieties in many locations last year. In
these areas, leaf rust surfaced due to spores blowing in from the Southern
Plains, which had a serious leaf rust outbreak in 2007.

Some varieties are not as resistant as they used to be, says
Thandiwe Nleya, South Dakota State University  (SDSU) Extension agronomist. She and coworkers John Rickertsen,
Richard Little, and Amid Ibrahim developed winter wheat recommendations for
South Dakota farmers.  

They point out that the varieties Jagalene and Darrell in
particular show more susceptibility to leaf rust than they once did. The gene
responsible for resistance in Jagalene and Darrell – LR 24 – is no longer
resistant to leaf rust.

However, the SDSU scientists say susceptible varieties still
performed well in areas with no rust. So these varieties may still be a good
choice for producers prepared to spray with foliar fungicides.

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