Southern Spotlight: Preparing a Return to the Wheat Fields

James Banahan

James Banahan

Within a month of today, we’ll be back in our wheat fields.

As always, entering this season with a plan is crucial to your crop’s success, but the motivation is coming on a little stronger this year in light of the tough season we had last.  So, before we begin drilling seed into the ground, here’s a brief list of must-do’s to ensure that you enter the season set up for a big yield:

1) Make sure volunteer wheat is controlled.

While you’re at it, make sure your neighbor’s is too, especially if you’ll be planting a wheat field beside their wheat field.  Volunteer wheat vectors diseases, harbors insects, and can potentially reduce your yield, even before you get started with the new crop.

2) Use a smart rotation plan to control weeds.

Planting wheat in the same fields two or three years in a row lends to weed problems that are easily prevented by simple crop rotation.  Given last year’s problematic crop and the fact that many fields have been fallowed for 45 days since that crop was harvested, you might be tempted to repeat wheat in the same fields.  Try to avoid this as this may very well cause you issues with cheat grass.

3) Invest in a seed treatment.

Data from our RD plots show that treated wheat (treated with a fungicide, insecticide, and Ascend) outyielded untreated wheat by 8 bushels per acre.  Many growers are reluctant to pony up for a seed treatment, but the math supports it: It takes about $10 to treat the seeds in one acre.  If you yield an additional 8 bushels, that’s a $48 return on your $10 investment—nearly a 5:1 return.

If you have your seed cleaned or purchase it from a different source besides the co-op, we will still happily treat it for you, helping you to protect what you put down.  If you have your seed treated elsewhere, I simply encourage you to ask about what goes into the treatment so that you understand what you’re protected against, and what you’re not.  Due to the dryness we’ve experienced lately, wire worm could be an issue, so insecticide is particularly important in your treatment this year.

4) Fertilize sufficiently.IMG_3729

While any grass crop requires N, P is the big concern when it comes to fertilizing sufficiently.  P is essential to establishing rooting, which helps curb winter kill issues.  Soil testing for P levels before you plant and supplying enough P to support your yield goal are key actions toward a big harvest.

Wheat sometimes seems ever-present in our fields and our operational planning, but it is also sometimes a forgotten crop.  We plant it because we can fit it into our scheme, but then do little to support it.  There’s a lot of value in wheat though.  A well-planned and tended wheat crop will nearly always provide a return on your investment and contribute positively to your bottom line and operational success.