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Tips for planting wheat

Breeding wheat varieties isn’t a quick proposition. Each takes about 10 to 12 years to develop and they tend to last only about five years before a change in disease races or other factors make them less competitive.

When looking at wheat data for 2009, “don’t get really excited about the lines that did the best,” Steve Harrison advised producers at the recent Terral field day outside Greenville, Miss. “That’s because it was a rather atypical season in terms of climate patterns and disease.”

Instead, said the LSU AgCenter small grains breeder (for more, see Steve Harrison), look at two-year data on a regional basis. Figure out the best two-year data set that applies to your farm. Then, “go to that set and pick out six, eight, 10 varieties that have done well in your region over two years. Then, go to the one-year data for the region and pick out varieties that were consistently high-yielding, that have a good test weight, that are resistant to leaf rust and other diseases — don’t go into a season planning to apply fungicides unless there’s a reason.”

The following Web sites are “excellent” resources for Southern wheat growers, said Harrison:

For Mississippi,

For Arkansas,

For Georgia,

For Louisiana,

North Carolina wheat growth stages,

When planting a wheat crop, 80 to 100 pounds of seed per acre is usually drilled and around 120 to 150 pounds is used if seed is broadcast.

“That’s usually twice as many seed as you need to plant. But in a lot of cases, a heavy rain or some issue will follow and you’ll end up with four to eight plants per square foot. Then, the question arises about what to do with the crop. The worst thing to do is ignore it and see what it looks like come spring. If you do that, it won’t serve the wheat well.”

If you do have a marginal wheat stand in the fall, Harrison suggests putting out a little nitrogen to make it tiller. Also, put out a herbicide to knock back weeds and prevent them from competing with the wheat for resources.

“When it tillers you probably won’t know there was a poor fall stand. However, if you leave the wheat alone and let the weeds develop, they’ll suck up the fertilizer in the ground and compete with the crop. Then you’ll have a yield of 20 bushels instead of 80.”

Wheat doesn’t like waterlogged soils. There are very few varieties that truly tolerate heavy, wet soils. “So when you’re planting wheat, think about surface drainage. Keep it from being waterlogged in the winter.”

Head size is determined in mid-winter and early spring. “We had a severe drought in Louisiana in February and March. We ended up with a lot of very small wheat heads because the plants were suffering when size was determined.”

When choosing wheat varieties, pay attention to test weight, disease reaction and maturity.

“If you plant early, choose a late-heading variety. The early-heading varieties need to be planted at the midpoint, or later, of the planting season. Planting those early means they’ll develop and grow all winter during warm spells. They’ll end up heading out four weeks too early and risk being severely damaged by a late spring freeze.”


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