This year's weather has been especially capricious with South Carolina's wheat crop.
"The cool, wet weather delayed the crop at just about every stage, from planting all the way to harvest," said Trish DeHond, a Clemson University Extension area agronomy agent who works in Chesterfield, Darlington, Dillon and Marlboro counties.
"There were plenty of times it could've taken a turn for the worse this year, but it looks like the wheat crop consistently dodged the bullet," she said. "The wheat I've seen looks quite good, especially considering the unusual weather."
The most recent crop report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) rated nearly three-quarters of the South Carolina wheat crop as good or excellent. About a quarter of the crop remains in the field — significantly behind schedule for most years.
"That's true of most of our field crops," DeHond said. "Rain has put them off schedule, but we've had enough sunshine to bounce back. After the drought in the past few years, there's not a lot of complaint about where we are now."
Many Southern farmers grow wheat during the winter on fields they use for soybeans or other hot-weather crops in the summer.
In addition to providing a second income from those fields, the soft red winter wheat grown here — the type typically used in cake and biscuit flour rather than bread — serves as a ground cover that reduces soil erosion and helps suppress weeds.
South Carolina farmers planted 260,000 acres of winter wheat this year, placing it among the top five agricultural commodities in the state in terms of land use, according to NASS statistics. That's an 11 percent jump from last year and a steady growth in the past few years as wheat prices generally have risen.
Risen, that is, until lately.
Now that South Carolina's wheat harvest is in full gear, farmers are contending not only with fluctuating weather, but also fluctuating commodity prices.
According to the Chicago Board of Trade, where futures contracts for the crop are traded, wheat prices have fallen almost every month since November when South Carolina's crop was newly planted.
"Farmers learned a long time ago to roll with the punches, especially with the things like weather and markets that they can't control," DeHond said. "That leads them to do the best they can with the things they do control, which is the reason we have a good looking crop of wheat this year."