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Give your wheat a fighting chanceGive your wheat a fighting chance

Give that hard-to-source wheat seed all the help you can as you plant this fall.

Jennifer M. Latzke

September 22, 2023

3 Min Read
rows of winter wheat
WHEAT WORRIES: A dry fall can affect wheat seedling emergence, causing uneven stands, poor crown root development and poor fall tillering. Orest Lyzhechka/Getty images

Wheat seed stocks took a hit this year in Kansas because of the drought.

The Sept. 7 Kansas State University Agronomy eUpdate offers farmers some practical advice for giving that hard-to-find seed a fighting chance.

Romulo Lollato, K-State Extension wheat and forages specialist, along with the team of K-State crop experts, advises Kansas growers to be cautious about planting wheat too early this September.

The current fall weather outlook from Chip Redmond, Kansas Mesonet manager, and Matthew Sittel, assistant state climatologist, warns growers that even though we are in an El Niño pattern, there are still plenty of unknowns that could affect the wheat crop.

The Climate Prediction Center’s September outlook warns that drought may expand this fall in the Central Plains. And so far, the CPC outlook through November gives Kansas equal chances of at-, above- or below-normal temperatures and moisture to be expected, according to Redmond and Sittel.

What does that mean for Kansas wheat farmers? Well, typically farmers would start planting dual-purpose wheat for forage in mid-September. But if this current drought persists through the fall, Lollato warns, that may not be a viable option this year.

A dry fall

What could be the harm in putting wheat in early? Well, as Lollato and the team explain, “Early-planted fields in growing seasons with a warm fall may produce excessive biomass that will use an excessive amount of water during the fall. If the following spring is dry, soil water deficit during grain filling can then reduce grain yield.”

On the other hand, that wheat may just increase tiller production enough to make up for that reduced grain yield, they continue.

Too dry of a fall affects seedling emergence, causing uneven stands, poor crown root development and poor fall tillering. Going in too early also increases the risk of running into multiple disease issues, insects and weed challenges.

And, in Kansas, farmers can’t forget the increased risk of wheat streak mosaic viruses affecting our newly planted wheat. Those wheat curl mites that have summered on volunteer wheat and grasses near fields are just waiting for new seedlings.

Planting too early can also cause increased risks of:

  • Hessian fly

  • armyworms

  • barley yellow dwarf

  • take-all, dryland foot rot, and common root rot

  • grassy weed infestations

  • germination troubles from high soil temperatures

  • shortened coleoptiles

Protect the seed

Kelsey Anderssen Onofre, K-State Extension wheat pathologist, advises that farmers may want to consider a seed treatment for their wheat this year. Protecting the seed against seedborne fungal diseases and soilborne seedling diseases can give it that fighting chance.

“These products may also provide early-season suppression of foliar diseases like powdery mildew and rusts,” she writes. She cautions, however, that these do not provide full-season control against spring infections.

In 2023, Onofre says there are some seed treatment priorities for Kansas farmers looking to protect their seed investments.

In particular, she advises:

 1. Protect against fusarium head blight in northwest Kansas. This year’s crops saw higher-than-normal levels of fusarium head blight in that region from heavy rainfall at the crop’s flowering.

 2. Use seed treatments to keep seed-borne smuts and bunts in check. There are some regions of Kansas that have struggled with these diseases. So, if you’re planning to save seed that is suspected of being exposed to common bunt, be sure to use a fungicide seed treatment.

 3. Use a seed treatment when planting wheat after soybean harvest. If you’re planting wheat late in the season into cool, wet soils, you’re already facing potential delayed emergence. A good seed treatment can help even high-test-weight seed compensate for that environmental challenge and establish a stand.

To learn more, read the Sept. 7 Agronomy eUpdate.

Kansas State Agronomy contributed to this article.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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