Shelby County wheat farmers hoping for good harvest

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There aren’t that many wheat farmers in Shelby County, but those who are have found the mild winter left them an early and larger yield – maybe even the coveted 100 bushels per acre.

By Lisa King

Wheat production may not be a farmer’s bread-and-butter crop in Shelby County, but thanks to an almost non-existent winter and a mild spring, most farmers in the county not only have enjoyed a slightly larger yield but also  already have harvested their crops.

“I just finished harvesting; now I’m getting ready to plant soybeans,” said Paul Hornback, who said he got 80 bushels of wheat per acre from the 100 acres he had planted on his farm near Bagdad.

Like Hornback, Ray Tucker, who said he harvested 90 bushels an acre from his 52 acres in Finchville, said his yield is slightly up because of mild weather.

“We usually get about sixty to seventy bushels per acre,” he said.

Another farmer, Tom Flowers, who has not yet harvested his wheat, said he hopes to get 80 or 90 bushels per acre out of the 90 acres he has planted on his 700-acre farm on La Grange Road.

“That would be fantastic; the magic number is one-hundred. If you can reach that per acre, you’ve hit a grand slam home run,” he said.

Flowers, who grows soft red winter wheat, like most farmers in Shelby County, said he didn’t really know how the mild winter and spring were going to affect the crop but that he is pleased that it resulted in an earlier harvest than usual.

“It was such an odd year; we had such a mild winter that the weather never went into dormancy, like it normally does,” he said. “We have been very fortunate.”

The exceptionally favorable growing conditions, coupled with a drought out west, have played a large role in driving wheat prices up to the current $6.25 per bushel, said Brett Reese, former Shelby County Ag Extension Agent.

“Before the drought in Oklahoma, wheat would have brought two or three dollars a bushel, but when it’s up around seven dollars, it becomes a lot more feasible for the farmer,” said Reese, who is now a regional representative for Southern States.

Reese said most farmers in Shelby County, and a lot of other places, too, mostly grow wheat as a cover crop, using it to enrich the soil for other crops, as well as making a little money in addition.

Reese said there about 20 to 30 farmers in Shelby County who have some acreage in wheat, although no one grows it exclusively.

“We are just starting to get more into growing it around here. It’s really still a relatively new enterprise,” he said.


Forecasts were down

The U.S. Department of Agricultural lists the five classifications of wheat as hard red winter, hard red spring, soft red winter, white and durum, which includes rye.

Stats from   the USDA say that wheat ranks third among U.S. field crops, in both planted acreage and gross farm receipts, behind corn and soybeans. The U.S. wheat harvested area has decreased by one-third (30 million acres) from its peak in 1981.

About half f the U.S. wheat crop is exported, but despite a rising worldwide wheat trade, the United States’ share of that market has been declining over the past 20 years. 

The Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association reports that the USDA has predicted that Kentucky’s winter wheat production will be down 9 percent from 2011, with 27.9 million bushels expected from the 2012 crop.

The USDA reports that 450,000 acres of grain have been planted, up 2 percent from 2011, but of the 580,000 acres of wheat sowed last fall, the 130,000 acres not harvested for grain were used as plow down before setting tobacco or harvested as hay or silage.


Crops go to Indiana

Most farmers interviewed said they sell their wheat to Consolidated Grain and Barge Co. in Jeffersonville, Ind., because that is the closest place to do so other than Louisville, where the prices are not as good, they said.

Wheat prices in Louisville are $6.65 per bushel, compared to $6.50 in Jeffersonville. Nationally, as reported by the USDA, prices in Kansas City are from $6.16 to $6.96; in St. Louis, the price is $6.34; in Minneapolis, $9.24 to $9.44; and in Portland, the price per bushel is $6.65.

Daniel Allen, a grain merchandiser with Consolidated, said he has 80 customers from Shelby County, but he does not have a breakdown of what crops they bring in.

“Most of them send in corn and soybeans, but we also get some wheat from them,” he said.

Allen said that Indiana boasts three or four large grain facilities plus several smaller ones to process the wheat.

 “We are a middle man; we sell it to different markets, the high quality wheat is for human consumption, and the lesser quality is used in animal feed,” he said. “We get about thirty semis in here per hour with loads of grain, mostly corn and soybeans, some wheat.

“We send it out by rail, truck and barge; the barges go down the Ohio and hit the Mississippi. Some of it, that we ship to Asia, goes on down to the Gulf.”

If wheat is not that profitable in Shelby, why do farmers grow it?

“The big reason I raise wheat is to help put the organic matter back into the soil,” said Ray Tucker. “After I harvest it, I plant soybeans right in the same soil.”

Jim Ellis, president of MORE (Maintain Our Rural Environment), said the practice, called double cropping, is common in Shelby County among those who grow wheat.

“There are probably about a half a dozen people who have a hundred or more acres in it,” he said. “Other people have less.”