Planting of small grains began on time but quickly fell behind as wet field conditions caused delays early in the planting season. Overall, there was good seedling emergence even in later than normal plantings. Acreage planted to wheat was estimated at 400,000 acres, the same as last year but 14 percent greater than two years ago. Acreage of rye planted for all purposes was similar to recent years and totaled 300,000 acres. Oat acreage was 70,000, the same as 1995-96. Rainfall amounts recorded monthly at the five test locations during the 1996-97 growing season are presented in the following table. Three of the test locations received below normal rainfall. The most severe shortage of moisture occurred in the Piedmont and upper Coastal Plain areas of the state from March until May.
The 1996-97 small grains growing season in Georgia was characterized by a mild winter followed by a cool and dry spring. Lack of adequate vernalization was a problem especially for late maturing varieties. The mild winter along with a dry spring hastened maturity and stimulated a buildup of several insects. Aphids were a problem throughout the state and not only caused major damage from direct feeding during head emergence and grain fill, but also spread barley yellow dwarf virus(BYDV). Hessian fly populations reached damaging levels in some south Georgia fields where growers failed to use either resistant varieties or at-planting insecticides. In the northernhalf of the state a new biotype of Hessian fly (biotype L) that attacks varieties that were previously Hessian fly resistant was reported. Damage from the cereal leaf beetle increased again throughout the upper Coastal Plain and north Georgia. Some growers in the northwestern part of the state used insecticides for control of this insect.
Disease pressure during the 1996-97 season was very low and caused very little yield loss. The mild winter with a few brief cold periods held powdery mildew in check and the cool and dry spring delayed development of leaf rust until late in the season. Damage from oat crown rust was light in most areas of Georgia. BYDV symptoms were observed on both wheat and oat at moderate to high levels throughout the state and caused moderate damage on several varieties.
Dry conditions during April and most of May hastened maturity and allowed small grain harvest to begin earlier than normal. An extended period of rain in late May delayed harvest and reduced test weights and quality of unharvested crops. An estimated 350,000 acres of wheat were harvested in Georgia in 1997 with an average yield of 42 bushels per acre. Georgia's total wheat production was 12 percent less than the previous year. Oat and rye production remained about the same as last year with only 20 percent of the rye harvested for grain.