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Spring-emerged volunteer wheat has risks, rewards

K-State offers advice for farmers seeing volunteer wheat emerging in their fields this spring.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

April 18, 2022

3 Min Read
Wheat crop with wheat streak mosaic virus
WHEAT STREAK MOSAIC: Some Kansas farmers are seeing spring-emerged volunteer wheat in their fields and are understandably concerned that it might act as a green bridge for the wheat curl mite. Kansas State University Research and Extension experts discuss the risks and rewards of spring-emerged volunteer wheat.Courtesy of K-State Research and Extension

Concerned about spring-emerged volunteer wheat in your fields? You aren’t alone.

According to the April 7 Kansas State University Research and Extension Agronomy eUpdate, experts are getting reports from around the state that some farmers are seeing volunteer wheat emerging this spring. Considering the role volunteer wheat plays as a “green bridge” for wheat streak mosaic virus, farmers are understandably concerned.

Green bridge

In the past five years Kansas farmers have been cautioned against leaving volunteer wheat unchecked in the summer after harvest — until fall planting and the new winter wheat crop’s emergence. Green wheat attracts the wheat curl mite, which is a vector for wheat streak mosaic virus.

“At harvesttime, wheat curl mites are abandoning mature wheat in search of green tissue to survive on,” according to the report. “If there is volunteer wheat around and that wheat is not terminated, the curl mites can hitch a ride on that wheat until the crop emerges after planting in the fall. In the fall, those mites will migrate from volunteer and other weedy hosts to the new wheat crop.” And thus, the green bridge.

But, there’s a bit of good news for farmers seeing volunteer wheat emerging in the spring: Because the winter wheat that was planted last fall, which is already green and growing, is a sufficient host for the curl mites. That makes spring-emerged volunteer wheat not as risky if WSMV isn’t a concern in your area.

“It essentially acts as a [much smaller] neighboring wheat crop,” the report says.

However, if your farm is in an area where WSMV is a concern, it’s a good practice to terminate this volunteer crop to nip the mite reproduction cycle in the bud, the experts say.

“Volunteer from fields with high WSMV levels in 2020 would be of highest concern,” the report says.

Agronomic risks and rewards

Of course, every farmer has to weigh the agronomic risks and rewards for leaving or terminating spring-emerged volunteer wheat.

On the one hand, if you have enough volunteer wheat, it can provide potential grazing, or it can be a cover crop until you’re ready to plant a summer crop like cereal rye or spring oats.

On the other hand, farmers risk complicating their weed management program, and that volunteer wheat may use water that could be saved for the next crop.

If termination is your choice, K-State recommends glyphosate as an effective option that will have little to no impact on the following summer crop. If that’s not available, other herbicides that control volunteer winter wheat include:

  • Group 1 herbicides. These include Assure II (fluazifop) or Select (clethodim). Just remember the rotation restrictions if planting corn or grain sorghum.

  • Residual herbicides. These include atrazine, Canopy (chlorimuron + metribuzin) or Sharpen (saflufenacil), but they have rotation restrictions as well.

If you have questions, or you’re concerned you might have WSMV in your fields, be sure to contact your local K-State Extension Office. You can also reach out to the K-State Plant Disease Diagnostic Lab on the Manhattan campus at 785-532-1383 or [email protected].

Kansas State Department of 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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