By DOUG GRAVES
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mention Ohio during a farming conversation, and many refer to the state as the land of corn and soybeans. Thanks to the growing use of a practice called double-cropping, though, one local agricultural economist believes wheat is on the rebound.
He believes the practice of double-cropping could bring a profit from two crops rather than one. In addition, diversifying crops can help control pests and disease.
“A decade ago, wheat was planted on twice as many Ohio acres as it is today, but it may rally a bit this year,” said Ben Brown, assistant professor of agricultural risk management at The Ohio State University. “Farmers (in Ohio) have grown a type of wheat known as soft red winter wheat for decades. Planted in the fall and harvested each spring, it’s used in crackers, cookies, cakes, cereal, and pastries.”
Brown estimates Ohio wheat acreage has increased by 10,000 acres in 2019, bringing the state total to about 500,000 acres. That’s nowhere near the 980,000 harvested in 2009 or the nearly 1.5 million harvested in 1961 – but it’s a positive sign.
He said one reason for the upturn is that farmers can plant soybeans on the acreage after the wheat has been harvested, giving them a double crop for the year on the same land. Not only does that mean a possible profit from two crops, but diversifying what is grown can help control pests and disease that would reduce soybean yield.
“Crop rotation is extremely important,” said Laura Lindsey, an assistant professor in horticulture and crop science at OSU. “Sandwiching a wheat crop in between soybean plantings can help reduce populations of soybean cyst nematodes, a parasitic roundworm, and can also produce higher crop yields.”
Circleville grain farmer John Hoffman plants roughly 10 percent of his 3,000 acres with wheat each year, seeding the rest to corn and soybeans. “Once we harvest the wheat, we immediately plant soybeans,” he said.
Then by November, he can harvest those soybeans and plant wheat again. The extra work of double-cropping some fields assists Hoffman with his bottom line.
“It also gives me another cash infusion, since it’s harvested at the end of June,” he explained. “Just growing by itself, wheat is not a money-maker. But there’s money in it as long as I couple it with double-crop soybeans.”
Between 15-20 percent of farmers in Pickaway County, where Hoffman lives, grow wheat. Some double-crop while others grow it for its byproduct, straw.
“Some people like to grow wheat and some don’t,” he said. “It can be a temperamental crop and needs to be carefully managed with fertilizers and fungicides to ensure a good yield.”
The average yield per acre of wheat in Ohio is 70-75 bushels. Hoffman said his yield is about 100.
“Wheat has always been an important crop in Ohio,” Lindsey said, “despite its reputation as a riskier crop to grow than corn or soybeans. Disease can be a problem, as well as weather.
“Getting winter wheat established after planting can be difficult, especially if wet weather persists in the fall and early winter, as it did last year. And if it rains too much, farmers can’t get into the fields when harvest time rolls around, wheat can fall over or start to sprout.”
According to USDA statistics, wheat ranks third behind corn and soybeans in planted acreages, production, and gross farm receipts. But the country’s share of the global wheat market has been falling the past 20 years as other countries, including Russia and Canada, have increased their production and more U.S. farmers have opted to grow soybeans.
The National Agricultural Statistics Service estimates that for the 2019-20 growing season, all U.S. wheat plantings will be down 5 percent, to 45.6 million acres.