You may be seeing a bit more green on typically barren fields through the winter. Not just because of the unusually mild winter we have experienced so far.
That’s because there was more land planted in winter wheat in Ohio than there has been in a decade. And it is the most winter wheat planted in Pennsylvania since the 1970s.
In Ohio, winter wheat seedings for 2023 were up 27%, compared with the previous year. That’s 140,000 more acres planted in wheat, for a total of about 650,000, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service.
In Pennsylvania, seedings are up 6%, bringing acreage up to 285,000 acres. The last time winter wheat acreage hit those levels was 1976 when 290,000 acres were planted.
Nationally, winter wheat seedings are up 11%. Winter wheat seeded for 2023 is estimated to be around 37 million acres. It’s the largest U.S. winter wheat acreage in eight years.
Ohio farmers used to plant around 1 million acres in winter wheat each year. That number dropped starting in 2009. Ohio will likely never hit a million acres planted in winter wheat again, but it does seem to be making a comeback.
Laura Lindsey, state specialist in soybean and small grains for Ohio State University, said there are a lot of variables at play with wheat plantings each year but price is a big motivator. The weather is another.
“I think prices come into play,” she said. “The past few years our yields have been really good. When people have good years, it makes them more inclined to plant wheat.”
Prices were volatile last year, spiking to record highs in February and March at the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine war. Ukraine and Russia are both major producers and exporters of wheat.
“A lot of guys were calling me in March asking if they could grow spring wheat,” Lindsey said.
Spring wheat doesn’t grow well in Ohio. It doesn’t get cold enough. So those farmers may have looked ahead to winter wheat. Prices cooled off as the year went on but were still above average. The 2022-23 season-average farm price is projected to be around $9/bushel, according to a USDA Economic Research Service report.
Drought is a concern for much of the country’s major wheat producing areas. More than half of the U.S. winter wheat production area is experiencing drought, as of Jan. 10, according to U.S. Drought Monitor data. This isn’t a concern for Ohio. In fact, this region usually has the opposite problem — too much wet weather in May and June when the crop needs to be harvested.
Wheat could be acting as a cover crop for some farmers, Lindsey said.
“We encourage people to plant cover crops in the fall to reduce erosion. Small grains can help fill that role,” Lindsey said.
That’s one of the best management practices being promoted by the Ohio Department of Agriculture through the state’s H2Ohio program. The state awarded $1.2 million to 160 producers for planting cover crops or adding small grains to their crop rotation in 2022, according to ODA data.
(Reporter Rachel Wagoner can be reached at 724-201-1544 or firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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