September is the time to get ready to plant wheat

By Harold Watters, Ohio State University Extension agronomist

I will admit I have not done much wheat work since the 1980s but I observe that many producers who do grow wheat are happy with their results — from the economic side by having three crops in a rotation and from the ability to do additional practices in the field after wheat harvest. Some benefits to having a summer fallow field are:

  • the application of manure,
  • to install tile,
  • the opportunity to do some deeper tillage or some levelling, and maybe to do some fertility adjustments along with that tillage,
  • to cleaning up perennial weeds (although this has been accomplished with RoundupReady crops too),
  • add a cover crop in the rotation and really have an impact on nitrogen accumulation or to build soil health,
  • or even to double-crop soybeans.

What are best management practices for growing wheat in Ohio?

Variety selection is of utmost importance. Choose defensive varieties that avoid the disease problem potential in wheat. Choose your varieties based on the Ohio State University Wheat Performance Trials and look at company test plot information, too. The more information you look over, the more confident you can be about your choice.

The OSU Trials are available on the website: https://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/wheattrials/. See also on the trial report the “Reaction of Winter Wheat Varieties to Various Diseases in Ohio”.

If you are thinking of 15-inch wheat, the OSU Wheat trials also report a wide-row wheat test at the Wayne County location. Several wheat varieties topped 100 bushels per acre even in the wider row.

Plant high-quality seed and use a seed treatment. Every year we receive calls from growers who go the cheap route and plant saved seed from the farm, then have problems with head scab, loose smut, and Stagnospora. Purchasing new fungicide-treated seed would solve many of these problems.

Crop rotation would solve many of our crop insect and disease problems in Ohio. Wheat grows best when it follows soybean. A 3-year rotation of corn, soybean and wheat is optimum for all three crops.

Planting after the dates of Sept. 22 to Oct. 5 depending on where you are in the state. These dates were set by determining the Hessian fly-free date but it turns out agronomically they also work well to help attain good yields. From my observations of fall growth, and then remarks about yield the next summer, plant within the 10-day window after fly-free date. Last year several folks did get wheat planted before fly-free date. Guess what: no yield benefit.

Seeding practices help wheat get well established in the fall. Don’t plant too wet, plant seed about 1.5 inches deep and aim for the right number of seeds per acre. The optimum seeding rate is 1.2 to 1.6 million seeds per acre. How many of you still plant on a bushels per acre basis? Get the drill calibrated and shoot for the right number of seeds per acre for your situation.

Row width is also important in helping to achieve high yields. Work I did as a graduate student showed that we could grow wheat in rows as wide as 20 inches, but yields tended to be highest when we planted in 7- to 7.5-inch rows. Some growers in Ohio want to be able to inter-plant soybeans in a relay inter-cropping situation. These growers are planting in 15-inch rows and come back with the planter in May to seed soybeans in those spaces between the wheat rows. Wheat varieties that do well in wider rows tend to be tall by nature and also have a non-erect growth habit that allows them to fill in row middles. Varieties with high rates of tillering also tend toward high yields in wide rows. Normally 15-inch row wheat yields 5% to 15% less than 7-inch rows, but tall plant height and tillering can help overcome that reduction.

Good fertility levels also get wheat off to a good start. Soil test and provide adequate P and K levels for wheat. Typical P levels are higher for wheat than for corn or soybeans. Wheat is a grass crop, so apply 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen at planting to stimulate fall growth.

And, see the Ohio Agronomy Guide for all of the best management practices for wheat as well as corn, soybeans and forages. The Agronomy Guide is available from county offices and https://extensionpubs.osu.edu.

Lastly, we cannot control the weather. What you can do is prepare to take advantage of good weather situations when they occur by doing things right and make all the yield you can.

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