The long-term outlook for U.S. wheat points to a relatively stable planted area compared with the past five years, according to recent U.S. Department of Agriculture reports.

The sharp decline in domestic food use of wheat since 2000, due to changing consumer preferences, appears to have ended. Internationally, in addition to traditional global competitors (Canada, Argentina, Australia, and the European Union), Ukraine and Russia have emerged as new competitors with the United States in foreign markets in years when Ukrainian and Russian wheat production is high.

The overall result in the projections is a slightly smaller U.S. share of an expanding world wheat trade. Total use of U.S. wheat rises slowly over the next decade, with export gains larger than domestic use increases. The projected all-wheat season-average farm price range is $4.70 to $5.50 per bushel, down 20 cents from the high end of the August range.

This range is below the 2008/09 price of $6.78, which was a record high, according to USDA.

Locally, in the last two years we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of acres planted to wheat, spurred by improved prices. Producers that are planning to plant wheat for grain in the Nueces County area should consider Spring varieties based on results from a variety test that we conducted this past year as the Spring varieties averaged 22 bushels/acre while the Winter type only averaged two bushels/acre.

Spring wheat is best suited for the local area, because of our lack of chill hours, and should be planted from early December through mid-January at a seeding rate of about 90 pounds per acre.

Winter wheat varieties require up to 45 days (1080 hours) accumulated exposure to temperatures between 45 degrees to 32 degrees F at the growing point to vernalize. Vernalization begins when the seed begins the germination process, when water is absorbed by the seed. Without adequate vernalization, winter wheat plants will remain vegetative and will not produce grain.

Variety selection remains one of the most important decisions made prior to planting any crop. Unfortunately when looking for performance data on Spring wheat, it is rather limited for South Texas. Results from the Nueces County Wheat Variety Test conducted last growing season can be found at our Web site, http://nueces-tx.tamu.edu/publications.cfm.

Another test location was at Castroville, Texas and results can be found on the Web site http://varietytesting.tamu.edu/wheat/index.htm.

In addition to selecting the best variety for your area, getting good quality seed is important. Seeds should look healthy, meaning that they have a good color, are large and plump, which translates to more energy. Test weight is a good initial indicator of seed quality, but is not an absolute.

If the bushel weight is below 58 lbs/bu, then this warrants further investigation into the seed quality. Moreover, good quality seed should have a greater than 85 percent germination. Make sure the wheat seed is not contaminated with weed seed. If the seed is certified, the percentage of weed seed (noxious and non-noxious) will be stated on the tag.

During the growing season, 1-inch of moisture will translate into about 3.5 bushels of wheat, so to produce a 30-bushel wheat crop we would need to receive 8.5-inches of rain or have that equivalent stored in the soil profile during the growing season.

We all know that our soil profile was depleted with the drought, so a wet growing season is sure needed for a respectable crop to be made and based on the long range weather forecasts that I have reviewed, we should be in for a wetter than normal winter and spring.

Fertilizer and other input costs have forced us to seriously evaluate what a crop actually needs and uses. In the case of wheat, the plant needs 1.5 pounds of nitrogen for each bushel produced, so a 30-bushel wheat crop would need about 45 pounds of nitrogen. With the drought, there could be some residual nitrogen left in the soil profile, but only soil testing would reveal that.

Phosphorus, another important soil nutrient is used at about 0.77 pounds per bushel of wheat produced. Our soils are typically high in potassium, so that is not usually a concern.

Optimum depth for wheat (and most other small grains) seeding under very favorable conditions is about 1.5 inches. Many farmers employ the practice of plowing or discing wheat fields following fall rains and immediately before planting. This practice leaves a fluffy seedbed which makes it extremely difficult to control seeding depth with most drills.

Drills with depth bands on double disc openers are perhaps the only conventional drills that can effectively regulate seeding depth in loose seedbeds. A better practice is to control volunteer weeds with herbicides and to plant in a firm, stale seedbed, according to Travis D. Miller, Professor and Extension Agronomist.

Leaving a significant amount of crop residue on the surface will reduce crusting, which is the reason for many of these preplant tillage operations.

Soil borne plant pathogens such as "take all," dryland foot rot, and others are active in warm, moist soils, particularly those repeatedly cropped to wheat. Pythium can be particularly damaging under cool, moist conditions at germination. Good systemic seed treatment fungicides reduce the damage caused by these seedling diseases.

More information about wheat can be obtained from your local office of the Texas AgriLife Extension Service.

Jeffrey Stapper is the Agricultural and Natural Resources Agent for Nueces County. Readers may contact him at 767-5217.