Illinois farmers seeded a multi-year high of 730,000 acres of wheat last fall, USDA reported this month.

That’s up from 670,000 acres planted for the 2021 crop and 570,000 acres for the 2020 crop.

“I think the good results from the 2021 harvest and (attractive) prices are the key drivers (of the boost to wheat plantings),” said Danny Rubin, a Fayette County farmer and president of the Illinois Wheat Association.

Illinois farmers harvested a state record yield average of 79 bushels per acre last season. Meanwhile, USDA projects a season-average price of $7.15 per bushel for wheat, up 10 cents from its previous estimate.

Nationwide, plantings of winter wheat for 2022 increased 2% from a year ago to 34.4 million acres. Plantings of soft red winter wheat, which is grown in Illinois, increased 6% to 7.07 million acres while plantings nudged up 1% for hard red wheat and 2% for white winter wheat across the U.S.

“I honestly think if we got better weather last fall, there would’ve been quite a few more acres planted,” Rubin said. “A lot of people didn’t get it all planted in my part of the state. It just kept raining the first three weeks of October.”

October was the fourth-wettest on record in Illinois last fall, which caused widespread delays of corn and soybean harvest along with wheat planting.

Weather since that time hasn’t been the most conducive for the crop to establish stands prior to winter dormancy, and drought lingers to the west.

“What we did get planted is OK,” Rubin said. “It’s not as good of stands as we had the fall before.”

The condition of the wheat crop was rated 75% good to excellent, 15% fair and 10% poor to very poor in the state as of Jan. 3, according to the National Agricultural Statistics Service Illinois field office.

Elsewhere, areas of winter wheat in drought conditions increased from 65% to 69% west of Illinois as of mid-January, based on the U.S. Drought Monitor.

An arctic blast of cold air also inundated the crop beginning Jan. 19 and was expected to linger most the rest of the month.

“We haven’t had any snow to speak of (to insulate the wheat crop), maybe a half-inch so far this season,” Rubin said as of Jan. 19. “So far, it hasn’t been too cold to hurt the crop. If we were to get too far below zero without any snow cover, that wouldn’t be good.”

Looking ahead, many Illinois wheat growers will begin top-dressing nitrogen in coming months. Rubin does not believe growers will cut rates much, if at all, even with fertilizer prices three to four times higher than last year.

“Nitrogen is so closely correlated with yield, I don’t think you can cut back much,” he added. “That’s not the answer.”