The wet weather stalling harvest in many parts of the country is affecting more than just the 2018 corn and soybean crop. It is also chipping away at the 2019 winter wheat crop’s yield potential.
Every day that wheat planting is delayed past the ideal planting window of late September and early October, fall tillering decreases and yield slips. The situation is especially concerning for wheat growers in the Great Plains, where the bulk of the country’s winter wheat is grown and the upper Midwest, which has seen some of the coldest and wettest weather this fall.
But behind every looming crop crisis is a busy army of Extension scientists, crunching data and sending out alerts to their state’s producers.
Extension agents from Kansas, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania have all published detailed articles on how best to manage a late-seeded wheat field to minimize yield loss and other problems. We’ve summed up their points here, for quick and easy reading.
1. ADJUST YOUR SEEDING RATE
A late-planted wheat crop has less time to put on fall tillers, which are proven to be more productive than spring tillers. To compensate for this, scientists agree that farmers should increase the seeding rate on wheat fields planted in late October and November.
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Kansas State Extension Wheat and Forages Specialist Romulo Lollato recommends Kansas growers increase seeding rates 150,000 to 300,000 seed per acre for every week beyond Oct. 10, with an upper limit of 1.35 million seeds per acre in western Kansas and 1.8 million seeds per acre in central and eastern Kansas.
Farther east, those recommended numbers creep higher. Michigan State Extension Wheat Crops Educator Martin Nagelkirk suggests that by the third or fourth week of October, Michigan farmers should be seeding 2 million or more seeds per acre. Ohio State scientists recommend the state’s wheat growers aim for 1.6 million to 2 million seed per acre.
Finally, Penn State Senior Extension Educator Delbert Voight simply tells Pennsylvania farmers to up their seeding rate by 30% in late-planted fields.
Don’t expect those higher rates to fully compensate for reduced tillering, however. A four-year study from Kansas State, for example, showed that even with increased seeding rates, dryland wheat planted in late October and early November still yielded 20 to 25 bushels per acre below fields planted in September and early October.
2. FERTILIZE ACCORDINGLY
Fertilizers at planting can help late-planted wheat fields compensate for limited fall growth, as well. Kansas State’s Lollato recommends a phosphorus-based starter fertilizer to boost tillering and compensate for the plants’ lower phosphorus uptake during cold weather. He suggests growers add 20 to 30 pounds per acre of P alongside the seed, regardless of soil P levels.
In Michigan, Nagelkirk suggests growers add 20 pounds per acre of nitrogen this fall — and cross their fingers for an extended fall season for the plants to use it. He also urges growers to put an early spring nitrogen application on their to-do list for late-planted fields.
3. CONSIDER A SEED TREATMENT
A cold wheat seed is a sluggish wheat seed, Lollato cautions. Late-planted wheat may be slower to emerge from colder soils, which leaves the seed vulnerable to soil-borne diseases. Fungicide seed treatments can provide up to a month’s protection from many common fungal diseases, both Lollato and Voight said.
4. PLACE SEEDS CAREFULLY
Late-planted wheat plants will be smaller and more shallowly rooted heading into the winter. Both the Ohio State scientists and Pennsylvania’s Voight recommend growers slow down and make sure wheat is uniformly drilled 1 inch to 1.5 inches deep, to protect from winter temperatures and soil “heaving” as the ground freezes and thaws.
5. LOOK ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
Lollato has two silver linings for Kansas wheat growers to focus on.
Unlike some previous falls, most of the state has maintained a good soil moisture profile this fall, setting wheat up for good emergence and stands in Kansas. Moreover, wheat fields seeded in colder weather are safer from wheat curl mites, which prefer warmer temperatures. Since these tiny insects carry the devastating wheat streak mosaic virus, late-planted fields are less likely to see outbreaks of this virus in 2019, Lollato concluded.
See the Michigan State article here.
See the Ohio State article here.
See the Penn State article here.
Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow her on Twitter @Emily_Unglesbee