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Wheat variety selection is critical for grazing and grain

Texas wheat farmers had high expectations from the 2006-2007 wheat crop and statewide yield potential was excellent until the Easter weekend. Those expectations came to fruition for many in the High Plains and some in the Rolling Plains who made extremely high dryland yields.

Other regions, however, were devastated by the late freeze, Hessian fly, disease pressure, and prolonged wet weather at harvest. Regardless of the outcome, variety selection played a big role, for better or worse, in all these situations.

One of the most important economic and management decisions a farmer can make is selecting the best variety for a specific area. Planting the best variety not only can increase yield potential but also can reduce input costs, such as fungicides. When selecting wheat varieties, the farmer must decide if the variety is to be grazed out, used for both grazing and grain (dual purpose), or grain only. If the variety is to be grazed out, many producers will want to plant a beardless variety. (Seed quality is just as important, and maybe more so, for grazing as it is for grain production.)

Characteristics to consider when choosing a variety:

  • Yield potential for the area should always be the number one consideration. Texas A&M, as well as other universities, conducts multiple trials over a wide range of conditions. These are summarized each year. Producers should review the summaries of the variety trials conducted in the region. These trials are conducted under both dryland and irrigated conditions. Any variety can perform well at a particular location for one year, so it is always best to examine results for multiple locations and years. We also recommend that producers always plant more than one variety, again because in any given year one variety may not perform well. Wheat variety results can be found at the following Web site:

  • Test weight and quality. Selecting varieties with consistently high weight (more than 60 pounds per bushel) is important to minimize dockage when the wheat is sold. Additionally, other milling quality characteristics are also important for maintaining and developing the U.S. wheat export markets.

  • Disease tolerance. Variety selection is the most economical management option for diseases. In years with adequate moisture (and good yield potential), foliar disease infestation will often be a problem, even for the Texas Panhandle and South Plains. Tolerance to stripe rust is becoming increasingly important across the state. However, we cannot forget about leaf rust tolerance (especially in Blacklands and South Texas). Powdery mildew has also been problematic the past several years in various parts of the state. Varieties change in their tolerance to stripe and leaf rusts over time. So, each year producers should check to see if a particular variety is still tolerant to these two diseases. Sometimes a variety will be tolerant to stripe rust, but not leaf rust or the other way around.

  • Insect tolerance. Hessian fly was very detrimental in numerous parts of the state. Selecting a tolerant variety is a key to managing Hessian fly. However, variety tolerance should be incorporated with delayed planting and seed for a list of tolerant varieties. Greenbugs are an annual problem in much of the state. A few varieties have good tolerance to greenbug, most notably TAM 110 and TAM 112. This is an important consideration for producers who do not want to scout fields for insects. Dryland farmers particularly like this trait.

  • Coleoptile length. Length of the coleoptile, the part of the wheat plant that emerges from the seed coat and pushes upward through the soil, is particularly important in the High Plains and Rolling Plains of Texas. The potential length of coleoptile will vary with varieties and planting date. When planted early in warmer soil conditions, coleoptile lengths of all varieties will be shorter. This is an important characteristic for dryland farmers who often have to plant deep to get to moisture. It is also important to producers who want to plant early in order to graze wheat in the fall.

  • Straw strength. Nothing is worse than having a wheat field lodge just before harvest. This is an especially important characteristic for irrigated wheat.

  • Fall forage potential is an important consideration for dual-purpose wheat. However, other management decisions can have a much greater effect on fall forage than variety selection.

  • Variety maturity. Planting wheat with a diversity of maturities can be helpful in spreading the risk from a late freeze or early heat stress. For example, some of the early maturing varieties were devastated by the Easter weekend freeze. However, later maturing varieties received much less damage.

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