Soft red winter wheat may benefit some central Texas farmers, says Extension agronomist Travis Miller, "but they have to balance lower prices against the expected yield increases. And they must select the proper varieties."

Miller discussed potential for soft red winter wheat recently at the Blacklands Income Growth (B.I.G.) Conference in Waco.

Miller said loan deficiency payments the past few years have favored soft red winter wheat but the cash market is higher for hard red winter varieties.

"The LDP seems to be significantly higher for SRW in times of low overall wheat prices," he said. The combination of the LDP and expected higher yields may benefit some Texas growers, Miller said.

Miller said SRW wheat is used for baking crackers, cookies and cakes. Protein level is lower than for HRW at 8 to 10 percent. "But that varies with the growing environment. In north Texas, mills take a lot of HRW wheat and blend it with SRW wheat to create desirable baking qualities. A good number of farmers in north and north central Texas already grow SRW wheat."

Miller says farmers who add SRW to their variety mix should assure that they keep it separate from HRW or other classes. Grade is based on class purity, he said. To grade No. 1, HRW must contain no more than 1 percent of other contrasting classes of wheat. A No. 2 grade can contain no more than 2 percent contamination.

"Anything above 10 percent, will affect prices severely," he said. "SRW has a similar grading system."

He recommends farmers investigate storage options before they commit to switching wheat classes. "Also check local markets and freight costs. And be sure to handle SRW wheat separately from HRW varieties. Clean bins and combines before switching."

Yield advantages for SRW wheat can be significant. Miller said variety trials at McGregor, Temple and College Station indicated a 4.5 to 18.3 bushel advantage for SRW. "Tests were not designed to compare SRW and HRW wheats," Miller said. "These figures represent the two highest yields in each trial." He said the difference in 1997 was 38 bushels but considers that year an aberration. "Over eight years, SRW wheat averages about 13 bushels better than HRW. A 2.2-bushel SRW advantage was the lowest."

Miller said HRW and SRW varieties are the same genus and species and will be susceptible to most of the same diseases and insects.

"Breeders commonly make crosses between market classes," he said. "But breeders focus most of their efforts on production problems in the large wheat-growing regions. We don't see much designed specifically for the Blacklands.

"But we do have some emphasis on SRW varieties in the area. Most of the HRW work focuses on the plains."

Miller said Hessian fly, an increasingly troublesome pest for Blacklands wheat growers, attacks SRW wheat. "The Hessian fly is more prevalent in eastern climates, and we do have varieties with tolerance. We also have some SRW varieties that are 100 percent susceptible."

Miller recommends that farmers evaluate SRW wheat varieties carefully and select the best ones for specific locations.