WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana-grown wheat is gradually going the way of the state’s “amber waves of grain” license plate.
Hoosier farmers this year will harvest the fewest wheat acres on record, with 380,000 acres harvested falling below the previous low of 450,000 acres in 1992.
The state’s wheat harvest record is 3.1 million acres, set in 1884.
Meanwhile, Ohio’s harvest is nearly completed and favorable weather conditions have helped farmers enjoy a third straight year of high wheat yields.
Indiana wheat acreage has been in a downward cycle for about a century, said Chris Hurt, a Purdue University agricultural economist. And while production per acre is up, farmers aren’t likely to grow more wheat in the years ahead.
Several factors are responsible for the wheat decline.
Too specialized. “Economics would probably have to be the big driver,” Hurt said. “We have seen greater specialization in cropping systems and seen farmers’ ability to go from several crops in a rotation down to really just two crops – corn and soybeans.”
Wheat prices are about $2.30-$2.40 per bushel, with corn at around $2 a bushel and soybeans in the $5 per bushel range.
“But corn has a very high yield,” Hurt said. “We see corn yields of 145 bushels per acre, while wheat yields are closer to 60 bushels. Yields on soybeans are creeping up toward what wheat yields are, yet soybean prices are considerably higher than wheat prices.”
Government support programs favor corn and soybean production, another incentive for farmers to move away from wheat, Hurt said.
“A third factor is that over time, we’ve seen much better transportation infrastructure,” he said. “Better transportation allows more regional specialization. So we’ve seen wheat production shift to the Great Plains, with less wheat production elsewhere in the country.”
U.S. down overall. Overall, U.S. wheat production is down, Hurt said. The United States is actually a fairly small producer of wheat in the world – currently only 9 percent of world production.
As wheat acres descend to record lows in Indiana, yield per acre is rising to new highs, said Ralph Gann, state statistician at the Purdue-based Indiana Agricultural Statistics Service. Yields should approach 66 bushels per acre this year, near last year’s record 69 bushels an acre.
Total 2001 Indiana production is estimated at 25 million bushels, Gann said. In comparison, record low yields of 7 bushels per acre and 8.1 million bushels produced both occurred in 1900, when Indiana farmers harvested about 2.8 million wheat acres.
Ohio average. Ohio farmers are posting average yields between 60 and 80 bushels per acre this year, with some fields pushing 100 bushels an acre, said Pat Lipps, Ohio State University plant pathologist.
“We’ve had three good years of wheat yield,” Lipps said. “The yields over the past two years were exceptional because of the mild winters we had. This year we had more of the normal Ohio winter weather, which caused some problems with frost heaving in early March, so the head counts were lower than previous years.”
Despite the winter injury and the wet spring, Ohio farmers produced a good quality crop, Lipps said. Disease and insects did little damage to wheat. Head scab levels were low, and even an armyworm infestation caused minimal harm.