CARBONDALE, IL (B)--The Arkansas soft red winter wheat crop has the potential to produce yields nearing the state record of 56 bushels per acre set a year ago, according to the results of the first day of the U.S. wheat Quality Council's crop tour through the Midwest.

Field reviews in 15 eastern and northeastern Arkansas counties May 23 found an average of 58.4 tiller heads per square foot--or the potential to produce more than 58 bushels of soft red winter wheat per acre. The figure compares with nearly 66 tiller heads found in the same counties during last year's tour.

"It will be an above average Arkansas crop," Jim Quinton with Crop Information Associates said during a recap of the tour's opening day during a meeting here Tuesday night.

Because the counties on the tour include the heavier producing areas, their results are not necessarily reflective of the overall crop, which Quinton said could be somewhere in the mid 50s and not far off last year's statewide average. That projection agrees with the most recent estimate from the Arkansas Agricultural Statistics Service which is currently estimating a statewide average yield of 55 bushels per acre.

Although there have been reports of army worms and wheat streak mosaic in some parts of Arkansas, those taking part in the tour did not find indications of widespread damage in the fields they inspected.

As expected, the crop in most Arkansas counties appears to be maturing ahead of schedule, with indications of wheat harvest set to begin within the next week to 10 days in several locations, weather permitting.

In addition to the early maturity, those on the tour also noted a slightly larger head size on the plants than during last year's tour.

Observers wound their way through Illinois wheat growing country, near areas on the western side of the state where the virus transported by the microscopic curl mite has been reported in some locations. Meanwhile, others on the tour went through areas to the east as the groups eventually rejoin in Terre Haute, IN. The tour concluded May 26 near Detroit.

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