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Drought Not All Bad: Wheat Crop Sets Records

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Photo: Scott Bauer, USDA-ARS

So far this year, the one Georgia crop that has fared well in the drought is wheat, with a record state-average yield of 52 bushels per acre.

For Grady County farmer Roger Godwin, the drought that destroyed his corn crop wasn't all bad. After all, it did help him produce the record wheat yield he'd dreamed of growing for years. "I've been wanting to do it all along," Godwin said. "But it just never quite got there."

Godwin had gotten close to making 100 bushels per acre before, only missing his goal by one or two bushels. But this year, after 15 years of trying, he smashed through the hundred-bushel-per-acre barrier, averaging an unheard-of 135 bushels per acre. That's the most wheat grown by an individual farmer since the University of Georgia started keeping records in the early 1980s.

"This time we hit it," Godwin said with a smile. To put the extraordinary yield into perspective, Godwin's average was more than two and a half times the state average of 52 bushels per acre, which was itself the highest state average since 1866 -- two years after General Sherman hiked through Georgia.

Dry April, May Helped Yields

"Certainly, the dry weather had a great impact in April and May on our wheat yields," said Dewey Lee, a wheat specialist with the UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences. Dry weather late in the growing season helps keep down wheat diseases, he said, that could have hurt production.

Besides a record-setting yield, Godwin got another benefit. He grew exceptionally high-quality wheat, which raises even more the price he will get for his crop. Godwin, who grew 200 acres of wheat, could have competition next year if other growers follow a prescription on ways to improve wheat in a booklet at county extension offices. Lee, one of the booklet authors, says farmers who follow the guidelines can increase their yields significantly.

The wheat may help some farmers stay in business, providing money to help fight the drought's more detrimental effects. "That additional cash, the extra yield, certainly helped them greatly," Lee said.

Godwin has only one regret. "Now, I sorta wish I had gone ahead and planted more wheat," he said. Other Georgia farmers probably wish that, too. While their 240,000 acres of wheat prospered this year, the drought devastated most of their 340,000 acres of corn.

The Georgia corn crop, only 20 percent harvested, is 72 percent mature, and the Georgia Agricultural Statistics Service rates 51 percent poor or very poor. The record wheat harvest is complete.

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