Heavy rain has delayed the winter wheat harvest for Arkansas farmers, a setback that could mean lower profits this year.

Rain increases wheat’s moisture content, making the grain unsafe to bring in. Wet wheat spoils in storage, said Jason Kelley, extension wheat and feed grains agronomist for the University of Arkansas System’s Agriculture Division.

Wheat that contains more than about 13 percent moisture is considered a risk, and even if the crop is harvested, the farmer can’t sell it for full price, Kelley said. And even sporadic rain can bring wheat’s moisture content above safe levels.

“It might take a day or two for the grain to be safe for harvest without spoiling,” he said.

About 96 percent of the state’s winter wheat grain is coloring, or is mature enough to harvest, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. At the same time last year, only 79 percent of the crop was ready to harvest.

The window for farmers to harvest their wheat — about two weeks — can be a vulnerable time for the crop. Rain on top of mature wheat can damage the grain. Farmers aim to harvest right when the wheat is mature, when it’s at its highest quality and highest price, Kelley said.

“We just don’t need the rainfall right now,” he said.

The delayed harvest should also affect farmers’ soybean production. Most fields that bear wheat in the winter are used for soybeans later in the year, so a late harvest for wheat means a late planting season for soybeans.