Wheat Thoughts

Plan Ahead for Winter Wheat Planting

Emily Unglesbee
By  Emily Unglesbee , DTN Staff Reporter
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Growers preparing to buy winter wheat seed for this fall should consider which diseases they've seen in past years, such as scab and stripe rust, and pick varieties accordingly. (DTN photo by Elaine Shein)

ROCKVILLE, Md. (DTN) -- Farmers are always thinking months in advance, and never is that mental leap so apparent than with winter wheat.

Wheat planting decisions made in the Great Plains this fall won't show their hand until late next spring, but don't put them off a moment longer. Crop scientists from states like Nebraska, Kansas and North Dakota are reminding growers to weigh a lengthy list of wheat planting considerations, from disease control to weed management and seeding rate.

CLEAN UP THOSE FIELDS

A top priority is "breaking the green bridge," said North Dakota State University Extension agronomist Joel Ransom. "The volunteers from a previous small grains crop or grassy weeds that harbor the wheat curl mite -- they need to be killed two weeks prior to planting the winter wheat crop," he told DTN.

Wheat curl mites can carry wheat streak mosaic virus, the predominant wheat virus in the Great Plains. They also carry Triticum mosaic virus and High Plains virus, two newer but also damaging diseases. The mites use volunteer wheat plants or grassy weeds as a "green bridge" to survive until they can invade new wheat plants emerging in the fall.

Keep resistant weeds in mind when making that burndown pass for volunteer plants. Winter annuals can be especially tricky to control since they tend to crop up just as the winter wheat crop itself is emerging.

For more information on how to control herbicide-resistant annuals like marestail and tricky weeds like downy brome, see this University of Nebraska article: http://bit.ly/….

SEED DECISIONS

If you're buying seed, most land-grant universities in wheat territory put out seed guides for their region each year, such as Kansas State University: http://bit.ly/… and the University of Nebraska: http://bit.ly/….

Don't consider only yield results, Ransom cautioned. Northern wheat growers should prioritize winter hardiness, for example. "It's one of reasons we're not able to use some of the highest-yielding varieties developed farther south," he noted. "They just don't survive the winter and don't yield as well up here."

Other top priorities are resistance ratings for Fusarium head blight, or scab, Ransom said. "It would be reasonable for any grower who has had experience with scab to lean toward growing those that are at least in the moderately resistant category," he said. "It is really the best line of defense against scab."

Stripe rust has been on the rise in recent years, and growers who were hit hard by it in 2016 would be wise to consult resistance ratings for the disease this year, he added.

Even Northern growers should keep it in mind. The disease develops down South and is blown up to the Northern states toward the middle of the summer, when high temperatures often tamp down its severity. "But it seems like the current race [of stripe rust] out there has more ability to tolerate heat, so we may see stripe rust becoming a bigger issue up here," Ransom noted.

Keep protein levels in mind, too. "There's good variability for it in the varieties out there," Ransom said.

Fungicide seed treatments might be appropriate in certain situations such as seed production fields, early or very late planted fields, fields with low planting rates or fields with a history of smut, flag smut, common bunt or Fusarium head blight last year, Kansas State University plant pathologist Erick DeWolf noted in a university article. For more details on the pros and cons of adding a seed treatment, see his article here: http://bit.ly/….

IN THE FIELD

Follow the recommended planting dates in your area, Ransom urged. Planting too early can result in an overgrown crop with increased disease risk. Planting too late can send young, weak seedlings into winter conditions they aren't fit to survive.

Growers should also consult the Hessian fly-free date in their region before heading into the field. Kansas growers should note, however, that this pest has been able to survive past that date in recent years -- see details on that development from Kansas Wheat here: http://bit.ly/….

"Plant with the goal of getting quick stand establishment," Ransom said. In the fall, soils tend to be drier than in the spring, which means most growers will have to rely on timely rains to get their wheat up and growing. Planting shallow -- around 1 to 1.5 inches -- helps plants take advantage of any rainfall amount and allows for faster emergence as temperatures drop, he said.

Seeding rate recommendations can range anywhere from 900,000 seeds per acre to 1.6 million, depending on your location. "If conditions don't look favorable for rapid establishment, I'd recommend the higher end of the range," Ransom said. For more specific seeding rate recommendations, see Kansas State University here: http://bit.ly/…, the University of Kentucky here: http://bit.ly/…, North Dakota State University here: http://bit.ly/…, and Ohio State University here: http://bit.ly/….

Northern growers should try to optimize snowfall cover potential by planting winter wheat into no-till fields with plenty of crop stubble, Ransom added.

Emily Unglesbee can be reached at Emily.unglesbee@dtn.com

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Emily Unglesbee