Fall management of late-planted wheat

By Luke Schulte, CCA, Field Agronomist, Beck’s Hybrids

As harvest begins significantly later than usual for most this fall, much of the intended wheat acreage will also likely get planted later than desired. Wheat planted more than 2 weeks after the “fly-free” date requires several specific management adjustments in order to maximize yield potential next summer. These management tweaks are necessary to account for lost time, heat required to drive tiller formation yet this fall. Fall-developed tillers are larger and more productive than spring-initiated tillers.


Fewer fall-initiated tillers equals fewer stems or eventually heads per plant. In order to compensate for a reduction in tillers/stems per plant, planting population should be increased. If planting more than 2 weeks after the fly-free date, increase population by 10% per week.

Fall fertility

While wheat requires adequate fertility, similar to corn and soybeans, several specific nutrients are essential to stimulating tiller formation. Fall-applied nitrogen (N), sulfur (S), and phosphorous (P) are crucial to increasing the number of tillers per plant.

Nitrogen: When planting within 2 weeks of the fly-free date, around 30 pounds per acre of N is recommended. However, when planting beyond this time frame, 35 to 40 pounds per acre is recommended.

Sulfur: Utilize an 8:1 ratio, N:S. For every 8 pounds of N applied, apply a minimum of 1 pound of S.

Phosphorous: Phosphorus is more critical to wheat than it is to corn and soybeans. Tri-State fertilizer recommendations call for a maintenance range of 20 to 40 ppm P for corn and soybeans. For wheat, a soil test value of 30 to 50 ppm is recommended. Specifically, fall-applied P is very advantageous to the initiation of fall tiller development.  

While the growing season has led to a late start of harvest for many, the success of next summers’ wheat crop has much to do with the start it gets this fall. Delayed planting does not necessarily equate to lower yield potential, if we take the steps to compensate for what Mother Nature has ultimately dealt us.

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