LAKE VILLAGE, Ark. – Arkansas wheat growers are embarking on a historically early harvest.

“We had wheat cut yesterday,” Gus Wilson, Chicot County extension staff chair for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture, said Thursday. “I had two guys call me this morning and said they were going to cut today.

“By Monday, if it does not rain, harvest will be full swing,” he said. “We’re a strong 12-16 days ahead of schedule.”

A 1997 report issued by USDA called “Usual Planting and Harvesting Dates for U.S. Field Crops,” stated that the usual harvest time for winter wheat in Arkansas began June 8, with the most active period between June 15-June 28, and the harvest winding up July 5.

Thirteen years later, the report, updated with 2007 Census of Agriculture figures, showed the dates trending earlier, with harvest in Arkansas beginning June 1. The most active period was between June 6 and June 25, with the harvest ending July 2.

“The earliest harvest I remember was in Gus’s area; May 17, 18, 19, somewhere in that timeframe,” Jason Kelley, extension wheat agronomist said Thursday. “We are 10 days or more of ahead of where ‘normal’ would be.”

Kelley said “in general, it’s going to be a good crop. There are some pockets where it looks really good and some, where it looks at little thin.

“Plants were growing so rapidly in March that some of our top dress fertilizer might have been late, or it was applied on time, but the rain didn’t activate it when the plants needed it,” he said.

Little River County Extension Staff Chair Joe Stuart said Thursday he expected the combines in his county to start rolling next week.

“The crop is turning very, very fast. Some of it looks like you could harvest it now, but many of the growers are heavily planting beans and letting the wheat dry out a little more.”

Extension Wheat Verification Coordinator Steve Kelley said Thursday he’d noted harvesting on a field in Lafayette County the day before.

According to the USDA Prospective Plantings report issued March 30, Arkansas growers planted 540,000 acres of winter wheat.