Fall on Hoosier farms in recent years has centered around harvest and in some cases, fall tillage, usually chisel-plowing or disking stalks. This fall there's an old game making a comeback- planting winter wheat. The driver? High wheat prices reaching record levels on the Chicago Board of Trade have coaxed many farmers into growing wheat again, even some who vowed they would never grow it again.
That's led to one early problem- lack of wheat seed. Tim Newcomb, Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind., says wheat seed supplies are tight. There may be more demand than there is supply in some areas.
It's not supply of seed that's bothering one central Indiana farmer. He agreed to grow wheat for seed for an Indiana company, so he has his supply of seed locked in. But he didn't anticipate the drastic increase in input prices to grow wheat from last year to this fall. Wheat is often considered a low-input crop, at least traditionally.
According to the farmer, it will cost him at least 20% more to put an acre of wheat out this fall compared to last year. He grows wheat every year, not just because it's possible to lock in a high price through forward contracting wheat for next summer. His business is baling and selling straw to standing customers, including landscape architects, who use it to mulch and start grass seed.
The biggest increase is in fertilizer prices. Both the price of phosphate fertilizer and nitrogen for next spring are considerably higher than a year ago, he notes. Wheat likes a kick from phosphorus in the fall, along with 15 to 20 pounds per acre of nitrogen fall-applied., notes Chuck Mansfield, Purdue University wheat specialist and also a teacher at Vincennes University in Knox County.
Wheat growers today are becoming more sophisticated than just throwing the seed in the ground and walking away until harvest, Mansfield notes. He recommends seeding with a drill. He also recommends paying attention to the seeding rate. He prefers winding up with 30 to 35 wheat plants (not including tillers) per acre, so that means seeding enough seed to reach that level.
The fly-free date is quickly passing, with the calendar being even past the date in the southern tip of Indiana this week. Mansfield ideally likes to see wheat planted within two weeks of the fly-free date in your area. It's not the fly he's worried about. Instead, planting after the date is usually a way to lessen the risk of aphids spreading barley yellow dwarf disease in the fall. However, picking planting dates is not an exact science. If the fall remains warm, insects may remain more active than usual later into the season this fall.
It's also a good way to make sure wheat gets big enough going into winter, but not too big, Mansfield says. Either condition may set you up for a tougher spring with the wheat crop than you like.
So if you're going to plant wheat, now is the time to think about getting it into the ground, Mansfield says. And even though seed may be hard to come by, he doesn't recommend skimping and cutting corners on seeding rate per acre.