Yes, getting corn and soybeans through the home stretch is the priority right now, but don’t forget about selecting the right winter wheat for your farm, too.
“The first thing, it starts at planting with selecting high-yielding varieties,” says Dennis Pennington, wheat systems specialist for Michigan State. He runs the state’s wheat performance trial, which this year included 115 varieties from 15 different companies.
The average yield was 91.2 bushels per acre. Counties with the highest yields were Isabella and Lanawee counties, with yields of 103.8 and 103.2 bushels per acre, respectively.
USDA pegged this year’s overall winter wheat yield at about 80 bushels per acre in Michigan, but Pennington thinks it’s less than that because of yield variations between regions.
Quality, though, is the real issue for growers he’s talked with.
Very dry conditions early in the season prevented widespread issues with fusarium head blight (head scab), the No. 1 disease of winter wheat. But in some places, the drought was severe enough that the wheat prematurely dried down before it matured, then a lot of rain fell, causing some places to see preharvest sprouting.
In some places it got so bad, Pennington says, that falling number was the worst he’s seen in a decade, especially in soft white winter wheat. But soft red winter wheat suffered, too.
The southwest and south-central parts of the state saw it the worst, he says.
Getting the crop in on time is crucial to get a good head start in any year.
“Last year was a great harvest season for field crops, so much of the wheat got planted on time. There was good growth and development, no severe winterkill,” Pennington says.
Some of the highest-yielding farms he’s seen split-apply their nitrogen applications, “and they’re using fungicide to control diseases,” he says.
“Those are the things that get guys set up for high-yielding potential, and those are the guys that are consistently in the 90-bushel to 100 [range] or even a little bit higher.”
How to select a variety
“What I always tell growers, the most important thing to look at when selecting a variety is yield. Secondary to that is fusarium head blight resistance because that is the primary disease that reduces yield and quality in our grain in Michigan," Pennington says.
But look at more than one year of data. See how varieties perform over time and at different locations, and look at data from multiple sources such as your seed dealer or other commercial trials.
When it comes to head scab resistance, Pennington reminds growers that no variety offers 100% protection.
“Given the right environmental conditions, you can still get it, so the best strategy is to plant, apply fungicide at flowering,” he says. “When you bring those two together, you can get a greater benefit then one of those alone.”
Purchasing certified seed is the best option, but if you’re using bin-run seed, Pennington says to make sure it’s clean and treated.
One trend he’s seeing is companies are developing shorter varieties “that have higher stalk strength because we're trying to put more yield on that head, which means that stem has to be strong enough to hold that yield up, and that is one of the things we saw early on" this year, he says.
While not commercially available yet, some newer varieties being tested have a more upright leaf architecture where the leaves are pointed upright and the angle from the stem to the leaf is narrower. Pennington says this type of growth can potentially capture more sunlight and allow more plants per acre, raising yields.
Check out the results of Michigan’s wheat trials at varietytrials.msu.edu/wheat.
The results of Maryland’s 2021 wheat variety trial also are online at bit.ly/Mdwheat.
This year’s trials were performed at five different locations across the state with 67 varieties evaluated. The statewide average yield was 100.6 bushels, while the statewide test weight average was 56.9 pounds per bushel.
Based on location, highest and lowest yields varied greatly. The highest recorded yield was 129.8 bushels, while the lowest recorded yield was 65.4 bushels. The highest test weight recorded was 63.2 pounds per bushel, while the lowest test weight recorded was 51.0 pounds per bushel.
Matt Hankinson, research associate of soybeans and small grains at Ohio State University Extension, says farmers should look at third-party trials from as many sources as possible and over as many years as possible.
Ohio State Extension has data from the past three years, so you can compare varieties and other trends such as yields, test weight and height over that period.
The average yield in this year’s trials was 102.7 bushels, varying between 74.7 and 128.2 bushels depending on the county where the wheat was grown.
Average test weight across the state was 58.1 pounds per bushel, varying between 55.1 and 60.3 pounds per bushel.
The trial included 79 winter wheat varieties that were evaluated. The results can be accessed at ohiocroptest.cfaes.osu.edu/wheattrials.