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Is spring wheat a viable option in Nebraska?Is spring wheat a viable option in Nebraska?

Dry conditions, poor winter wheat stands and market opportunities are pushing producers to look at spring wheat.

Curt Arens

March 25, 2022

3 Min Read
closeup of wheat growing in a field
SPRING SEEDING: Cody Creech, Nebraska Extension dryland cropping specialist, says spring wheat is a flexible crop, and varieties have improved over the past 20 years.DannyRM/Getty images

Nebraska is a winter wheat state, with an estimated 41.2 million bushels harvested from 840,000 acres in 2021. That’s about a 21% increase from the year prior. Only around 15,000 acres are seeded each spring to hard red spring wheat in Nebraska, with most of those acres centered around McCook, Kimball and Crawford. North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana and South Dakota are the states where 95% of hard red spring wheat is planted.

Extremely high wheat prices and tight supplies, along with a dry winter and pending drought, have many farmers in wheat country evaluating their options. Where winter wheat stands have been injured due to winterkill or drought, and for farmers looking at the economics of wheat production, is spring wheat a viable option in Nebraska?

Where does it fit?

“Spring wheat has its place in crop rotations as a flexible crop that allows a farmer to transition a rotation or plug a hole,” says Cody Creech, Nebraska Extension dryland cropping specialist. “It is a short-season crop that could be used if someone needs to conserve some irrigation due to an allocation or be able to have access to a field midsummer to spread manure.”

It is best, according to Creech, to get spring wheat seeded as soon as possible in the season, ideally in March, to avoid heat later in the season.

“Mid-April would be the latest I would recommend seeding,” Creech advises. “Spring wheat is very cold-tolerant and can even be dormant-seeded in February. It is also a good option for those looking to rotate to wheat but were unable to get winter wheat established due to getting a crop off late or a lack of precipitation.”

At some point, even in a dry spring, precipitation will come, Creech says. “It will be important to have the seed in the ground early so it can take advantage of the early spring moisture,” he says. “We do worry about the drought once the wheat emerges, and that can result in the wheat being short and difficult to harvest.”

Better varieties

Varieties of spring wheat have improved greatly over the past 20 years. “Newer varieties are better adapted to our growing region and have higher yield potential,” Creech explains. “Many promising experimental lines are being developed and will be released in the coming years. Dryland spring wheat yields can consistently achieve 25 to 35 bushels per acre, and can go higher if rainfall is favorable.”

Right now, certified wheat seed remains available and is priced very reasonably, Creech adds. Growers should work directly with a wheat mill to market their grain, with spring wheat valued as a blend wheat to make baking flour.

“Spring wheat adds flexibility to the crop rotation,” Creech says. “A grower can harvest spring wheat and then evaluate the field conditions to determine what would be best. If adequate moisture or irrigation exists, a double crop using another grain crop or a forage could be used.” 

Here is a link to the 2021 spring wheat variety trials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. 

About the Author(s)

Curt Arens

Editor, Nebraska Farmer

Curt Arens began writing about Nebraska’s farm families when he was in high school. Before joining Farm Progress as a field editor in April 2010, he had worked as a freelance farm writer for 27 years, first for newspapers and then for farm magazines, including Nebraska Farmer.

His real full-time career, however, during that same period was farming his family’s fourth generation land in northeast Nebraska. He also operated his Christmas tree farm and grew black oil sunflowers for wild birdseed. Curt continues to raise corn, soybeans and alfalfa and runs a cow-calf herd.

Curt and his wife Donna have four children, Lauren, Taylor, Zachary and Benjamin. They are active in their church and St. Rose School in Crofton, where Donna teaches and their children attend classes.

Previously, the 1986 University of Nebraska animal science graduate wrote a weekly rural life column, developed a farm radio program and wrote books about farm direct marketing and farmers markets. He received media honors from the Nebraska Forest Service, Center for Rural Affairs and Northeast Nebraska Experimental Farm Association.

He wrote about the spiritual side of farming in his 2008 book, “Down to Earth: Celebrating a Blessed Life on the Land,” garnering a Catholic Press Association award.

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