Weather will play a big part in the overall national and Texas wheat crop in the coming months, a Texas Cooperative Extension economist said.

Dry conditions have hampered Texas wheat statewide, said Dr. Mark Welch, Extension grains economist. Though planted acres of wheat have increased across the Southeast, Texas and Oklahoma, weather will be a big factor on yields this spring.

"In the drier areas of the Panhandle, if they plant later, it improves the yield potential for grain," Welch said. "That may bode well for yield, but negatively impact the stocker cattle folks."

If the crop is established and doesn't get grazed, it will be in better shape when it comes out of dormancy next spring, Welch sa! id.

"From a yield standpoint, it's not hurt yet, but there is concern if it doesn't rain and the root system doesn't develop," he said.

Despite record wheat prices, consumers will see minimal effects on food products containing wheat since much of it is already in processed form, Welch said.

"Most of the wheat in many food products is highly processed and goes through baking and milling," Welch said. "Even though the wheat component is important, it's small in terms of adding to the cost of the product."

About 73 loaves of bread can be made from a bushel of wheat. At $8 per bushel, the value of wheat in a one-pound loaf of bread is about 11 cents, or about 7 percent of the cost of the loaf, Welch said. The remainder of the cost is tied up in processing, baking, packaging, transporting and advertising, he said.

Subtle increases in some food items have been directly related to the rise in transportation fuel. Record wheat prices were recorded during the latter part of September. Kansas City wheat reached $9.50 bushel during the first week of October, but has dropped back about $2 a bushel, Welch said.

"Much of the market driven by panic buying is gone," Welch said. "Wheat from the southern hemisphere (Australia and Argentina) is being harvested and available for export and the Russians are aggressively selling wheat as well."

AT A GLANCE:

* The ethanol boom is contributing to high wheat prices as increased corn production is shifting acreage away from other crops.

* High input costs make wheat an attractive option. Even though quality-planting seed was expensive and hard to find this fall, planting cost per acre is lower and wheat requires less fuel and fertilizer than traditional row crops. Budget-minded producers tend to favor wheat since they can plant more acres for fewer dollars.

* While rising grain prices contribute to higher food costs, the impact of the pric! e of wheat on consumer budgets is small since most products containing wheat are highly processed. That means processing costs may contribute more to the price of the product than the price of wheat.

* Several areas of major wheat producing states are experiencing increasingly dry conditions. Wheat conditions continue to deteriorate in the Southern High Plains, especially Oklahoma and Texas.