Type: winter annual cereal grain; can be spring-planted
Roles: prevent erosion, suppress weeds, scavenge excess nutrients, add organic matter
Mix with: annual legumes, ryegrass or other small grains
See charts, pp. 66 to 72, for ranking and management summary. Although typically grown as a cash grain, winter wheat can provide most of the cover crop benefits of other cereal crops, as well as a grazing option prior to spring tiller elongation. It’s less likely than barley or rye to become a weed and is easier to kill. Wheat also is slower to mature than some cereals, so there is no rush to kill it early in spring and risk compacting soil in wet conditions. It is increasingly grown instead of rye because it is cheaper and easier to manage in spring.
Whether grown as a cover crop or for grain, winter wheat adds rotation options for underseeding a legume (such as red clover or sweet-clover) for forage or nitrogen. It works well in no-till or reduced-tillage systems, and for weed control in potatoes grown with irrigation in semiarid regions.
Erosion control. Winter wheat can serve as an overwintering cover crop for erosion control in most of the continental U.S.
Nutrient catch crop. Wheat enhances cycling of N, P and K. A heavy N feeder in spring, wheat takes up N relatively slowly in autumn. It adds up, however. A September-seeded stand absorbed 40 lb. N/A by December, a Maryland study showed (46). As an overwintering cover rather than a grain crop, wheat wouldn’t need fall or spring fertilizer.
A 50 bushel wheat crop can take up 20 to 25 lb. P2O5 and 60 lb. K2O per acre by boot stage. About 80 percent of the K is recycled if the stems and leaves aren’t removed from the field at harvest. All the nutrients are recycled when wheat is managed as a cover crop, giving it a role in scavenging excess nitrogen.
“Cash and Cover” crop. Winter wheat can be grown as a cash crop or a cover crop, although you should manage each differently. It provides a cash-grain option while also opening a spot for a winter annual legume in a corn>soybean or similar rotation. For example:
In the Cotton Belt, wheat and crimson clover would be a good mix.
In Hardiness Zone 6 and parts of Zone 7, plant hairy vetch after wheat harvest, giving the legume plenty of time to establish in fall. Vetch growth in spring may provide most of the N necessary for heavy feeders such as corn, or all of the N for sorghum, in areas northward to southern Illinois, where early spring warm-up allows time for development.
In much of Zone 7, cowpeas would be a good choice after wheat harvest in early July or before planting winter wheat in fall.
In the Corn Belt and northern U.S., undersow red clover or frostseed sweetclover into a wheat nurse crop if you want the option of a year of hay before going back to corn. With or without underseeding a legume or legume-grass mix, winter wheat provides great grazing and nutritional value and can extend the grazing season.
In Colorado vegetable systems, wheat reduced wind erosion and scavenged N from 5 feet deep in the profile (111, 114).
In parts of Zone 6 and warmer, you also have a dependable double-crop option. See Wheat Boosts Income and Soil Protection.
Weed suppressor. As a fall-sown cereal, wheat competes well with most weeds once it is established (71). Its rapid spring growth also helps choke weeds, especially with an underseeded legume competing for light and surface nutrients.
Soil builder and organic matter source. Wheat is a plentiful source of straw and stubble. Wheat’s fine root system also improves topsoil tilth. Although it generally produces less than rye or barley, the residue can be easier to manage and incorporate.
When selecting a locally adapted variety for use as a cover crop, you might not need premium seed. A Maryland study of 25 wheat cultivars showed no major differences in overall biomass production at maturity (92). Also in Maryland, wheat produced up to 12,500 lb. biomass/A following high rates of broiler litter (87).
In Colorado, wheat planted in August after early vegetables produced more than 4,000 lb. biomass/A, but if planted in October, yielded only one-tenth as much biomass and consequently scavenged less N (114).
If weed control is important in your system, look for a regional cultivar that can produce early spring growth. To scavenge N, select a variety with good fall growth before winter dormancy.
Wheat Boosts Income and Soil Protection
Wheat is an ideal fall cover crop that you can later decide to harvest as a cash crop, cotton farmer Max Carter has found. “It’s easier to manage than rye, still leaves plenty of residue to keep topsoil from washing away—and is an excellent double crop,” says Carter.
The southeastern Georgia farmer no-till drills winter wheat at 2 bushels per acre right after cotton harvest, without any seedbed preparation. “It gives a good, thick stand,” he says.
“We usually get wheat in by Thanksgiving, but as long as it’s planted by Christmas, I know it’ll do fine,” he adds. After drilling wheat, Carter goes back and mows the cotton stalks to leave some field residue until the wheat establishes.
Disease or pests rarely have been a problem, he notes.
“It’s a very easy system, with wheat always serving as a fall cover crop for us. It builds soil and encourages helpful soil microorganisms. It can be grazed, or we can burn some down in March for planting early corn or peanuts anytime from March to June,” he says.
For a double crop before 2-bale-an-acre cotton, Carter irrigates the stand once in spring with a center pivot and harvests 45- to 60-bushel wheat by the end of May. “The chopper on the rear of the combine puts the straw right back on the soil as an even blanket and we’re back planting cotton on June 1.”
“It sure beats idling land and losing topsoil.”
Establishment & Fieldwork
Wheat prefers well-drained soils of medium texture and moderate fertility. It tolerates poorly drained, heavier soils better than barley or oats, but flooding can easily drown a wheat stand. Rye may be a better choice for some poor soils.
Biomass production and N uptake are fairly slow in autumn. Tillering resumes in late winter/ early spring and N uptake increases quickly during stem extension.
Adequate but not excessive N is important during wheat’s early growth stages (prior to stem growth) to ensure adequate tillering and root growth prior to winter dormancy. In low-fertility or light-textured soils, consider a mixed seeding with a legume (80). See Wheat Offers High Value Weed Control, Too.
A firm seedbed helps reduce winterkill of wheat. Minimize tillage in semiarid regions to avoid pulverizing topsoil (358) and depleting soil moisture.
Winter annual use. Seed from late summer to early fall in Zone 3 to 7— a few weeks earlier than a rye or wheat grain crop—and from fall to early winter in Zone 8 and warmer. If you are considering harvesting as a grain crop, you should wait until the Hessian fly-free date, however. If cover crop planting is delayed, consider sowing rye instead.
Drill 60 to 120 lb./A (1 to 2 bushels) into a firm seedbed at a 1/2- to 11/2-inch depth or broadcast 60 to 160 lb./A (1 to 2.5 bushels) and disk lightly or cultipack to cover. Plant at a high rate if seeding late, when overseeding into soybeans at the leafyellowing stage, when planting into a dry seedbed or when you require a thick, weed-suppressing stand. Seed at a low to medium rate when soil moisture is plentiful (71).
After cotton harvest in Zone 8 and warmer, no-till drill 2 bushels of wheat per acre without any seedbed preparation. In the Southern Plains, 1 bushel is sufficient if drilling in a timely fashion (302).
With irrigation or in humid regions, you could harvest 45- to 60-bushel wheat, then double crop with soybeans, cotton or another summer crop. See Wheat Boosts Income and Soil Protection. You also could overseed winter wheat prior to cotton defoliation and harvesting.
Another possibility for Zone 7 and cooler: Plant full-season soybeans into wheat cover crop residue, and plant a wheat cover crop after bean harvest.
Wheat Offers High-Value Weed Control
Pairing a winter wheat cover crop with a reduced herbicide program in the inland Pacific Northwest could provide excellent weed control in potatoes grown on light soils in irrigated, semiarid regions. A SARE-funded study showed that winter wheat provided effective competition against annual weeds that infest irrigated potato fields in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.
Banding herbicide over the row when planting potatoes improved the system’s effectiveness, subsequent research shows, says project coordinator Dr. Charlotte Eberlein at the University of Idaho’s Aberdeen Research and Extension Center. “In our initial study, we were effectively no-tilling potatoes into the Roundup-killed wheat,” says Eberlein. In this study we killed the cover crop and planted potatoes with a regular potato planter, which rips the wheat out of the potato row, a grower then can band a herbicide mixture over the row and depend on the wheat mulch to control between-row weeds.
“If you have sandy soil to start with and can kill winter wheat early enough to reduce water-management concerns for the potatoes, the system works well,” says Eberlein.
“Winter rye would be a slightly better cover crop for suppressing weeds in a system like this,” she notes. “Volunteer rye, however, is a serious problem in wheat grown in the West, and wheat is a common rotation crop for potato growers in the Pacific Northwest.”
She recommends drilling winter wheat at 90 lb./A into a good seedbed, generally in mid- September in Idaho. “In our area, growers can deep rip in fall, disk and build the beds (hills), then drill wheat directly into the beds,” she says. Some starter N (50 to 60 lb./A) can help the wheat establish. If indicated by soil testing, P or K also would be fall-applied for the following potato crop.
The wheat usually does well and shows good winter survival. Amount of spring rainfall and soil moisture and the wheat growth rate determine the optimal dates for killing wheat and planting potatoes.
Some years, you might plant into the wheat and broadcast Roundup about a week later. Other years, if a wet spring delays potato planting, you could kill wheat before it gets out of hand (before the boot stage), then wait for better potato-planting conditions.
Moisture management is important, especially during dry springs, she says. “We usually kill the wheat from early to mid May— a week or two after planting potatoes. That’s soon enough to maintain adequate moisture in the hills for potatoes to sprout.”
An irrigation option ensures adequate soil moisture—for the wheat stand in fall or the potato crop in spring, she adds. “You want a good, competitive wheat stand and a vigorous potato crop if you’re depending on a banded herbicide mix and wheat mulch for weed control,” says Eberlein. That combination gives competitive yields, she observes, based on research station trials.
Mixed seeding or nurse crop. Winter wheat works well in mixtures with other small grains or with legumes such as hairy vetch. It is an excellent nurse crop for frostseeding red clover or sweetclover, if rainfall is sufficient. In the Corn Belt, the legume is usually sown in winter, before wheat’s vegetative growth resumes. If frostseeding, use the full seeding rates for both species, according to recent work in Iowa (34). If you sow sweetclover in fall with winter wheat, it could outgrow the wheat. If you want a grain option, that could make harvest difficult.
Spring annual use. Although it’s not a common practice, winter wheat can be planted in the spring as a weed-suppressing companion crop or early forage. You sacrifice fall nutrient scavenging, however. Reasons for spring planting include winter kill or spotty overwintering, or when you just didn’t have time to fall-seed it. It won’t have a chance to vernalize (be exposed to extended cold after germination), so it will not head out and usually dies on its own within a few months, without setting seed. This eliminates the possibility of it becoming a weed problem in subsequent crops. By sowing when field conditions permit in early spring, within a couple months you could have a 6- to 10-inch tall cover crop into which you can no-till your cash crop. You might not need a burndown herbicide, either.
Early spring planting of spring wheat, with or without a legume companion, is an option, especially if you have a longer rotation niche available.
You needn’t spring fertilize a winter wheat stand being grown as a cover crop rather than a grain crop. That would defeat the primary purpose (N scavenging) of growing a small grain cover crop. As with any overwintering small grain crop, however, you will want to ensure the wheat stand doesn’t adversely affect soil moisture or nutrient availability for the following crop.
Kill wheat with a roller crimper at soft-dough stage or later, with a grass herbicide, or by plowing, disking or mowing before seed matures. As with other small grain cover crops, it is safest to kill about 2-3 weeks before planting your cash crop, although this will depend on local conditions and your killing and tillage system.
Because of its slower spring growth, there is less need to rush to kill wheat in spring as is sometimes required for rye. That’s one reason vegetable grower Will Stevens of Shoreham, Vt., prefers wheat to rye as a winter cover on his heavy, clay-loam soils. The wheat goes to seed slower and can provide more biomass than an earlier killing of rye would, he’s found. With rye, he has to disk two to three weeks earlier in spring to incorporate the biomass, which can be a problem in wet conditions. “I only chisel plow wheat if it’s really rank,” he notes.
Wheat is less likely than rye or barley to become a weed problem in a rotation, but is a little more susceptible than rye or oats to insects and disease. Managed as a cover crop, wheat rarely poses an insect or disease risk. Diseases can be more of a problem the earlier wheat is planted in fall, especially if you farm in a humid area.
Growing winter wheat could influence the buildup of pathogens and affect future small-grain cash crops, however. Use of resistant varieties and other IPM practices can avoid many pest problems in wheat grown for grain. If wheat diseases or pests are a major concern in your area, rye or barley might be a better choice as an overwintering cover crop that provides a grain option, despite their lower grain yield.
Choosing wheat as a small-grain cover crop offers the flexibility in late spring or early summer to harvest a grain crop. Spring management such as removing grazing livestock prior to heading and topdressing with N is essential for the grain crop option. Seed sources. See Seed Suppliers.
Top | Legume Overview
- Wheat has good potential for forage and is usually higher in quality than rye, triticale and oats but not barley. However, wheat usually produces more dry matter than barley.
- Equivalent 60 bushel yield crop, 80-100# N, 40# P, 60-70# K
Fertilizer removal rates need to be considered as well. When utilizing cover crops as forage, it’s critical to consider the nutrients being removed along with the biomass. These fertilizer levels will need to be added to ensure maximum nutrient availability for the following cash crop.
Hay yields often average between 2-4 tons/acre. Moisture content should be between 15-20% moisture. Hay quality is more maturity-dependent at harvest than is silage.
The most efficient time to harvest small grain cereals for hay is at early-milk stage. This allows for the greatest compromise between forage yield and quality (quality would be greatest at the late-boot stage). To help speed up drying, a crimper is recommended when harvesting in the late-boot stage
Wheat, barley, oat and triticale silage yields are similar, 4-7 tons/acre of 35% dry matter forage in the boot stage and closer to 6-10 tons/acre when harvested in the late-boot stage. Small grains should be ensiled at between 62–68% moisture. Chop length should be set finer than when harvesting corn or forage sorghum. (Kansas State University)
Top 8 winter wheat establishment recommendations:
1. Variety selection: please see the 2012 WI Winter Wheat Performance Test
2. Plant new seed (don’t plant saved seed).
3. A fungicide seed treatment is recommended for winter wheat in WI.
4. Wheat should be planted 1 inch deep.
5. The target seeding rate for wheat planted from September 15th to October 1st is 1,300,000 to 1,500,000 seeds per acre.
6. The optimal seeding rate for wheat planted after October 1st should be incrementally increased as planting date is delayed to compensate for reduced fall tillering.
7. Crop rotation matters.
8. Drought considerations: Check herbicide labels for plant back restrictions and conduct a PPNT for wheat following any corn crop.
As with any crop, variety selection is the most important factor to consider in maximizing winter wheat yield and profitability. When choosing a winter wheat variety, several factors must be considered. These include winter survival, insect and disease resistance, lodging, test weight, and most importantly, yield. Since no variety is ideal for every location, it is important to understand the crop environment and pest complex that affects your specific region to maximize yield.
Yield is based on the genetic potential and environmental conditions in which the crop is grown. Therefore, by diversifying the genetic pool that is planted, a grower can hedge against crop failure. Select those varieties that perform well not only in your area but across experimental sites and years. This will increase the likelihood that, given next year’s environment (which you cannot control), the variety you selected will perform well.
Test weight is also an important factor to consider when selecting a variety. The minimum test weight to be considered a U.S. #2 soft red winter wheat is 58 lb/bu. Wheat at lower test weights will be discounted. Both environment and pests may greatly affect test weight; therefore, selecting a variety that has a high test weight potential in your region is critical to maximizing economic gain.
Select a variety that has the specific insect and disease resistance characteristics that fits your needs. By selecting varieties with the appropriate level of resistance, crop yield loss may be either reduced or avoided without the need of pesticides. Careful management of resistant cultivars through crop and variety rotation, are required to ensure that these characteristics are not lost.
Crop height and lodging potential are also important varietal characteristics that may be affected by your cropping system. If the wheat crop is intended for grain only, it may be important to select a variety that is short in stature and has a low potential for lodging. This may decrease yield loss due to crop spoilage and harvest loss as well as increase harvesting rate. However, if the wheat crop is to be used as silage or is to be harvested as both grain and straw, then selecting a taller variety may be warranted. For detailed information regarding winter wheat variety performance please visit www.coolbean.info for results of the 2012 WI Winter Wheat Performance Test.
Plant New Seed in 2012
- To maximize wheat yields in 2013, it is imperative that growers plant certified or private (professionally prepared) seed that is true to variety, clean, and has a high germination percentage (>85%).
If growers absolutely need to plant saved seed due to availability or other economic considerations, the following steps should be taken to increase the likelihood of establishing a legal and good wheat crop.
Step One: Determine if you can legally plant the wheat seed you saved. Today, many private wheat varieties now come with statements which buyers sign at the time of purchase, stating that they understand they are not authorized to use the harvested grain for seed. Most current public winter wheat varieties are Plant Variety Protected (PVP) and though you may replant them on your own land, you do not have the right to trade/sell seed of those varieties to others for planting.
Step Two: Once you have determined if you can legally plant the seed you saved, the next step is to clean the wheat seed. It is important that wheat seed be cleaned to remove small and damaged seeds and to eliminate weed seeds. Removing small and damaged seeds will not only aid in crop establishment, but will also provide a more uniform wheat seedling stand. Removing small and damaged seeds will also increase the thousand-kernel weight (TKW), which serves as a measure of seed quality. Wheat seed with TKW values greater than 30 grams tend to have increased fall tiller number and seedling vigor.
Step Three: Perform a germination test. Germination tests can either be completed at home or by sending a sample to the Wisconsin Improvement Association. A home test can be performed by counting out 4 sets of 100 seeds and placing each of them in a damp paper towel. Place the paper towel into a plastic bag to conserve moisture and store in a warm location out of direct sunlight. After five days, count the number of germinated seeds that have both an intact root and shoot. This will give the grower an estimate of % germination. It is important to choose random seeds throughout the entire seed
lot and conduct at least 4 – 100 seed counts. If germination is below 85%, it is important to increase the seeding rate to compensate; however, we would caution growers from seeding any wheat with a germination test below 80%.
Step Four: Assess the need for a seed treatment. A number of fungicides and insecticides are labeled for use as seed treatments on winter wheat and are listed in Pest Management for Wisconsin Field Crops 2012 (UW-Extension A3646). Seed treatment fungicides protect germinating seed and young seedlings from seedborne and soilborne pathogens. Seed treatment fungicides will not improve germination of seed that has been injured by environmental factors and will not resurrect dead seed. Remember, seed treatment fungicides applied this fall will not protect against potential FHB infection next summer. If seed with scab must be used for planting, a seed treatment fungicide is a must.
Wheat should be planted ~1.0 inch deep depending upon soil moisture conditions. Wheat planted less than 0.5 inches deep may result in uneven germination due to seed exposure or dry soil conditions. Shallow planted wheat is also more susceptible to soil heaving. Wheat planted more than 1.5 inches deep may result in death due to pre-mature leaf opening or poor tiller development and winter survival. Uniform seed placement and seeding depth are important in promoting crop health in the fall.
Seeding rate and planting date
The targeted fall stand for wheat planted from September 15th to October 1st is between 30 and 35 plants per square foot. To achieve this goal, the seeding rate for soft red winter wheat is between 1,300,000 and 1,600,000 viable seeds per acre (Table 1). Depending upon varietal seed size, this equates to a range of between 74 and 119 pounds of seed per acre (Table 2). The optimal seeding rate for wheat planted after October 1st should be incrementally increased as planting date is delayed to compensate for reduced fall tillering (Table 1).
Winter wheat and crop insurance (Information courtesy of Michele Austin, Director -Insurance Services; Badgerland Financial)
The Wisconsin winter wheat final planting date varies by county, ranging from September 30th to October 10th. If the wheat is seeded after the county’s final plant date (late planting period) the crop insurance guarantee is reduced by 1% per day for the first 10 days. If wheat is seeded after the late planting period, the crop insurance guarantee is reduced to 60% of the original guarantee.
Special notes regarding the 2013 crop
- The Trend Adjustment option is now available for some Wisconsin counties on Wheat. Talk to your crop insurance agent for more details.
- Winter wheat coverage is not available in all Wisconsin counties.
- Air seeded (flown on by airplane) wheat is not insurable and no premium is charged.
- The final day to turn in a 2012 winter wheat claim is October 31st
- The 2013 wheat price discovery on CBOT (using September ’12 contract) will be determined as follows (this price will be used for both yield protection and revenue protection plans of insurance):
- The Projected Price tracks from August 15, 2012 – September 14, 2012
- The Harvest price tracks from August 1, 2013 – August 31, 2013
- There is a 200% maximum difference between the Base and Harvest Prices with no downside limit.
Yield data from our long term rotation experiment located at Arlington, WI indicated that wheat grain yield was greatest when following soybean (Table 3) (Lauer and Gaska, 2003-2006, unpublished). Yield of second year wheat (2003 column) was similar to wheat yields following corn for grain or silage. Third (2004), fourth (2005), and fifth (2006) year continuous wheat yields were dramatically lower than the other rotational systems. Our data suggests that growers should plant wheat after soybean first, then corn silage, corn for grain, and lastly wheat.
If growers choose to plant second year wheat, several management factors should be considered to reduce risk. First plant a different wheat variety in the second year that possesses excellent resistance to residue-borne diseases. Under no circumstances should growers consider planting bin-run seed in second year wheat. By planting a different variety with strong disease resistance characteristics you can reduce the likelihood of early disease pressure and significant yield loss. Growers should use a seed treatment in wheat following wheat. Be aware that seed treatments are not a cure all for all common diseases in continuous wheat systems (e.g. take-all). Growers should also consider increasing their seeding rate to 1.8 to 2.0 million seeds per acre in wheat following wheat systems. This will aid in stand establishment and increase the likelihood of a uniform stand going into the winter. Lastly, if using a notill system, planting into a seedbed that is free of living volunteer wheat is important in reducing the incidence of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus. Growers should consider a herbicide application to any living volunteer wheat prior to planting to prevent a “green bridge” for the aphids that vector this virus.
Drought considerations for wheat following any corn crop
Given the extreme drought across much of the WI winter wheat growing area is it imperative that growers check plant back restrictions for corn applied herbicides. Even if you have “gotten away with it” the last few years the likelihood for injury is substantially greater in 2012. It may also prove beneficial to pull a PPNT (pre-plant nitrogen test; please refer to A2809 for details on PPNT sampling) sample. This would give growers an idea about the residual N so we are not either:
1. Under applying N and limiting yield or
2. Over applying N which may lead to lush spring growth that can increase the incidence of
powdery mildew and lodging that may decrease yield, grain quality and slow harvest.
Winter Wheat Cover Crops: Growing Winter Wheat At Home
Winter wheat, otherwise known as Triticum aestivum, is a member of the Paceae family. It is usually planted in the Great Plains region as a cash grain but is also an excellent green manure cover crop. Native to southwest Asia, winter wheat planting was first introduced by Russian Mennonites during the 19th century. This hardy annual cereal grain provides a host of benefits to compacted and overused soil. Learn how to grow winter wheat to improve soil conditions, repair exposed areas and minimize erosion.
Benefits of Winter Wheat Cover Crops
Winter wheat cover crops are designed to lessen erosion from runoff of water and wind and to retain the soil. They also contribute to the reduction of mineral leaching and compaction, suppress the amount of weed growth, reduce insect pests and diseases, and increase crop yield.
Commonly used on commercial farms, cover crops can also be beneficial to the home garden where soil structure tends to become damaged due to weeding, tilling,
harvesting, and general foot traffic.
Knowing when to plant winter wheat will provide roots that aerate soil and increase water absorption and retention. Once tilled, the plant adds organic matter to buoy the soil composition of the home garden.
Growing Winter Wheat at Home
Winter wheat is less likely to become a weed and is easier to get rid of than barley or rye. Winter wheat matures more slowly than some cereals, so there’s no rush to kill it off in early spring, and thereby, risk compaction of the soil during the wet season.
Winter wheat grasses are also easier to grow as they germinate and establish much more quickly than cover crops, such as clover. Cheaper and easier to manage than rye, winter wheat’s popularity as a cover crop is exponentially growing. The grass is not an ornamental species and is best suited for large beds and open grassland.
When to Grow Winter Wheat
The best time for winter wheat planting is from mid September through early December. Plant this hardy annual cereal grain from seeds, which are available at farm suppliers, online and some garden centers.
Broadcast seeds over a prepared seedbed when growing winter wheat at home. Keep the bed moist until germination and remove competitive weeds.
Common varieties of winter wheat to consider planting as cover crops are Hard Red, Soft Red, Durum, Soft White and Hard White.
How to Grow Winter Wheat
To plant winter wheat as cover crop, rake the garden smooth, removing debris and large rocks.
Direct seed winter wheat in dry soil, in rows of 6-14 inch widths and 2inches deep or simply broadcast seeds, lightly rake in and water winter wheat with a garden hose set on mist.
A couple of cold weeks will induce winter wheat to flower and thereafter become dormant until the spring when it can then be tilled into the garden soil.
As we saw with the 2019 winter wheat crop, if winter wheat is planted late and if conditions are not fit, there is a greater risk of winter survival issues. When it comes to determining your optimum planting date for your region, Ontario’s Optimum Winter Wheat Planting Date map (Figure 1) is a great resource. When determining the optimum date, find your location on the map and look at the dates on the lines on either side of you. The planting date range for that region falls between those two dates. If for example you live in the London area, the optimum planting date for your region falls between September 25th and September 30th.
Figure 1: Updated Optimum Planting Date Map for Winter Wheat in Ontario. Planting date map was updated in partnership with WIN.
Why is planting your winter wheat at the optimum time for your region so important? Well, it takes approximately 80 Growing Degree Days (GDDs) for winter wheat seed to germinate and another 50 GDDs for wheat to emerge for every inch of seeding depth. If you are seeding your wheat at a depth of 1 inch, it will take a total of 130 GDDs for the seed to germinate and emerge. If you plant deeper, it will take more GDDs for those plants to emerge. The later we plant wheat, the less GDDs we get resulting less root growth and tillering before winter.
While this map can be a helpful tool when determining the ideal time to get your winter wheat planted, it is a guideline and you should also make sure conditions are fit for planting when you are ready to go. If the conditions aren’t right and waiting a day or two beyond the optimum date means better planting conditions, then wait for the better planting conditions.
While it may come as a surprise, you can acrtually plant winter wheat too early due to the increased risk of snow mould, lodging and Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (BYDV). It is generally not recommended to seed more than 10-14 days prior to the optimum date for your region. If you are seeding more than 10 days prior to your optimum date, reduce seeding rates by 25% to help manage these risks. If you are planting later than the optimum date, the seeding rate should be increased by 200,000 seeds/acre per week to a maximum of 2.2 million seeds/acre to compensate for the delayed planting.
Seeding depth and the use of a starter fertilizer are also significant factors that need special attention at planting. Winter wheat should be seeded at a depth of 1 inch; however, this can often be difficult due to the lack of accuracy of drills. Therefore, you should target 1.25-1.5 inches to ensure you are seeding your wheat deep enough. Shallow seeding can result in plants being more prone to winterkill and heaving.
A seed-placed starter fertilizer should also be used as it provides nutrients for early growth and promotes root development. As a result, we see an improvement in winter survival and crop uniformity which helps with disease management the following spring.
Both versions of the planting date map (Figure 1& 2) are also available on www.GoCereals.ca. The maps can be found under the downloads section of the “Resources” page.
Figure 2: Coloured Optimum Planting Date Map for Winter Wheat in Ontario. Planting date map was updated in partnership with WIN.
North Dakota State University
Recommendations for Planting Winter Wheat – 2018
Given the more favorable spread between winter wheat and spring wheat prices (certainly compared to last year) and the early harvest of many crops to date, planting winter wheat this fall may make sense for many operations. Winter wheat can provide important green cover this fall on early harvested fields. Furthermore, winter wheat can help spread out work and it frequently out-yields spring wheat. The following suggestions are recommended to aid in producing a successful winter wheat crop:
1- When possible plant winter wheat into standing stubble. Survival of winter wheat during the winter is enhanced when it is covered with snow during the coldest months of the year. Standing crop residues can effectively retain snow. Tall, erect flax and canola stubble works best, but any erect stubble that retains snow is recommended. Planting winter wheat into wheat stubble is not ideal for disease reasons, but as long as disease-insect management is planned, wheat stubble can be an acceptable residue.
2- Plant a winter hardy variety, especially if you are not planting into a standing residue. Ratings for the winter hardiness of currently available varieties are summarized in the Winter Wheat Variety Selection Guide https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/crops/winter-wheat-articles/a-1196-hrww-2017-selection-guide.
Additionally, the results of the 2018 winter wheat variety trials from many of the RECs are now available at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/varietytrials/winter-wheat/2018-trial-results.
This information can help you select varieties that will likely perform well in your farm. For availability of certified seed refer to the seed guides in North Dakota http://www.nd.gov/seed/field_directory/ and South Dakota.
3- Plant in September: The optimum planting date for the northern half of the state is September 1-15 and for the southern half, September 15-30. In recent years, plantings during the first ten days of October for southern regions of the state have largely been successful. The last practical date that winter wheat can be planted will depend on the weather but there must be enough moisture and growing degree days so that the seed can germinate and the seedling vernalize by spring. Larger seedlings will overwinter better than smaller ones. Target the earlier portion of the recommended planting date range if planting into bare, fallow ground.
4- Plant 1 to 1.5 inches deep: Adequate moisture for establishing winter wheat is often a concern as the soil profile is usually depleted of moisture in the fall. If there is little or no moisture in the soil’s surface, planting shallow (1 to 1.5 inches deep) and waiting for rain is recommended. Furthermore, these relatively shallow planting depths allow for faster emergence when temperatures are rapidly decreasing.
5- Seed about a million seeds per acre: Generally, a seeding rate of 900,000 to 1.2 million viable seed per acre is adequate. The higher seeding rate may be appropriate if planting late or when planting into poor seedbeds. Since winter wheat tends to tiller more profusely than spring wheat, 1.2 million seeds per acre is the upper end of the recommended seeding rate. Excessively high seeding rates can result in more lodging by harvest time, particularly if you are using a taller variety (like Jerry).
6- Break the green bridge. Breaking the green bridge is critical to reducing the risk of infection of the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus. This disease is vectored by a tiny mite that moves from green tissue to green tissue by wind. Breaking the green bridge is particularly important when winter wheat is planted early. The green bridge is broken by controlling volunteer cereal crops and grassy weeds in a field, two weeks prior to planting winter wheat. A two-week window of not having a ‘green’ host present assures that the mite has gone through its lifecycle and died before finding a host to feed on and transmit the virus.
7- Avoid varieties that are highly susceptible to scab. Scab is not always a problem in winter wheat. Nevertheless, check the recent Selection Guide for the level of scab resistance in currently available varieties. The following rated are rated as the most resistant: Emerson, Lyman, Moats and Redfield.
Extension Agronomist for Cereal Crops
More farmers are planting spring wheat in the fall in an effort to tap into higher prices, several Washington Grain Commission board members say.
More than half of the wheat in the Columbia Basin is fall-planted spring wheat, said Dana Herron, who represents Benton, Franklin, Kittitas, Klickitat and Yakima counties and is co-owner of Tri-State Seed in Connell.
Some spring wheats have enough winter wheat parentage to allow it to be planted in the fall and survive winters, Herron said.
“We’re trying to get a winter wheat yield with a spring wheat price,” Herron said. “It’s one of the few recommendations we can make to add two dollars-plus per bushel to the guy’s bottom line. Today, that’s a big deal.”
Soft white wheat currently sells at $5.20 per bushel to $5.35 per bushel on the Portland market. Dark northern spring wheat sells at $7.02 per bushel to $8.24 per bushel, depending on the protein level.
Spring wheat typically has a 75-cent premium over winter wheat, but would also have a lower yield than winter wheat, said Damon Filan, industry representative on the commission and manager of Tri-Cities Grain. That yield lag isn’t present when spring wheat is planted in the fall, he said.
“Better yield, quicker harvest – that way they can double crop,” Filan said.
Growers are able to harvest the spring wheat in late June instead of late July and then plant timothy hay or sweet corn, he said.
Protein levels are improved with the earlier harvest, Filan said. The Basin consistently produces spring wheat with desirable proteins and test weights, he said.
“The risk is arctic blasts without snow,” Filan said.
Herron estimates he’s lost one fall-planted spring crop in eight years because it was thinned out.
“If weather is anything (other) than severe, it’ll make it,” Herron said.
Filan anticipates no more than a third of dark northern spring wheat to be planted in the fall.
“There’s more acres being planted than I’ve seen, ever, because they’ve been so successful the last couple years,” he said.
Some growers have been planting this way over the last decade, Filan said. The varieties have improved in the last 10 years, he said. Fifteen to 20 years ago, efforts weren’t very successful north of Pasco, he said.
Filan expects more farmers to consider fall planting as they talk to growers who have been successful doing it.
“It’s building on itself and it will keep doing it,” he said.
The fall-planted spring wheat is taking acres from fall-planted winter wheat, Herron said.
Whether such methods continue depends on the price spread, Herron and Filan said.
“I think some of the acres will go away, but it’s going to continue to be a good practice,” Herron said.