Laying the foundations for high yield wheat

By Greg LaBarge, CCA, Ohio State University Extension agronomist

Making sound agronomic decisions give wheat a well-established root system as a foundation to maximize yield. Wheat is an annual crop, but there are ten months between planting and harvest. Here are seven practices to establish your wheat for its long growing season.

  1. Variety selection is of utmost importance. The Ohio State University Wheat Performance Trials shows yield and other important agronomic data for 79 varieties at four sites at https://www.oardc.ohio-state.edu/wheattrials/. The OSU trials traditionally included disease ratings, but weather wiped out the 2022 disease rating site. The 2021 disease rating data is still helpful and is archived at https://go.osu.edu/21wheatdisease. Company trials are another information source. The more information you look over, especially from your region, the higher your confidence will be about your choice. 
  2. Plant a high-quality seed and use a seed treatment. You take on that responsibility if you plant saved seed from the farm. Unfortunately, we often get calls about head scab, loose smut, and Stagnospora that tie back to farm-saved seed. Purchasing new fungicide-treated seed would solve many of these problems.
  3. Crop rotation would solve many of our crop insect and disease problems in Ohio. Wheat following soybean is optimal for breaking disease cycles and timely planting. There are documented benefits to a corn, soybean, and wheat rotation for all three crops.
  4. Planting date depends on where you are in the state. Suggested dates start after Sept. 22 (northernmost counties) to Oct. 5 (southernmost counties). These dates are used to avoid Hessian flies, but the Hessian fly-free date is also beneficial to reducing other pests and agronomically sound to attain good yields. Earlier planting dates can result in excessive growth and increased concerns about fall diseases and aphids injury. The best planting period is 10 days after your county’s fly-free date. 
  5. Seeding practices help wheat become well established in the fall. Don’t plant too wet. Aim for a planting depth of 1.5 inches. Choose an optimum seeding rate of 1.2 to 1.6 million seeds per acre. If planting three to four weeks after your fly-free date, increase seeding rates to 1.6 to 2 million seeds per acre. Avoid planting by a bushel measure due to seed size variability. Wheat has a tremendous capacity tiller, fall through early spring, increasing the head count per acre. Get the drill calibrated to plant the targeted number of seeds per acre for your situation.
  6. Row width is also essential to achieving high yields. We get the highest yields in 6 to 8-inch rows. However, other cropping system goals may dictate different row spacings. For example, relay inter-cropping soybeans into wheat is popular in some areas. These growers are planting in 15-inch rows and coming back with the planter in May to seed soybeans between the wheat rows. Wheat varieties that do well in wider rows tend to be tall by nature, with a non-erect growth habit that allows them to fill in row middles. Likewise, a variety that tillers well will achieve higher yields in wide rows. Typically 15-inch row wheat yields 5% to 15% less than 7-inch rows, but tall plant height and tillering can help overcome that reduction.
  7. Good fertility levels also get wheat off to a good start. First, apply 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen at planting to stimulate fall growth. Then, use a soil test to determine P and K needs. If soil test P levels are less than 30 ppm or soil test K is less than 100 to 120 ppm, apply fertilizer since the risk of yield loss when soil test is below these numbers.

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