Keys to growing wheat – don’t plant too early |

Keys to growing wheat – don’t plant too early

Richard Snell
Barton County Extension Agent

It never fails! People in general and especially farmers look at what happened last year and plan that the same thing will happen again. Don’t kid yourself. The same applies for planting wheat.

It seems we are in an every other year pattern where one year earlier planted wheat does better and the next year the later planted yields more. This past year, both the really early and the fairly late got burned by various weather and disease phenomena I am not predicting what will happen. However, I will say that 8 years out of 10 there is a prime window to plant wheat and that 2-3 week time frame will yield best.

When exactly is that? Well, it depends on where you live and farm. On average, I would say you should not be starting to plant wheat until 10 days before the fly-free date for your area. Now in Barton County the fly-free date is October 4. But, in Cheyenne County, up around St. Francis and into Nebraska, that may be as early as September 15. I would say move about 2 days earlier for each county as you move north and northwest.

The fly-free date for Barton County is October 4 according to data from K-State Entomology. That date is based on the average freeze and when the Hessian fly would hatch and survive. The fly doesn’t read the bulletin however and sometimes it might be earlier if it gets cold early or much later in some years.

Although the Hessian Fly can be a significant problem since we don’t have a lot of Hessian Fly resistant varieties, there are other reasons that are more important not to jump the gun. You may think the early bird gets the worm, but sometimes the worm wins!

I think that late spring freezes can cause problems with bigger wheat, especially in dry winters because it uses more moisture and leaves the plant more susceptible to injury.

Wheat streak mosaic and Barley Yellow Dwarf are diseases that I believe are worse on wheat that is planted too early.

My favorite planting window and almost fail-proof time frame in Barton County is from September 24 through about October 15.

Having said all this, I do have to give some qualifiers. There are some reasons to plant both earlier and later than that. These days we have a lot of no-tillers and they are planting wheat immediately after a fall crop. Usually with corn, you can get it harvested early enough to meet the window, barring wet weather, but with soybeans that is not the case. Often it’s early November when you can get in. In that case, you just have to increase the seeding rate and fertilizer as well as making sure you get the seed into the soil with good seed to soil contact. If you can raise even 30-40 bushel dryland soybeans, let alone 50 bushels like we have the past two years, you can afford to have less than optimum wheat yields following.

There are two major reasons to plant earlier than I said. One is that if you are on sandy soil, the danger of wind erosion and the need to get adequate root growth to hold the soil before winter, may be a bigger factor than diseases or insect pest. I still would not plant before September 16 unless you are pasturing.

That would be the second good reason to plant early, pasturing. If you want fall pasture, you need to plant right now, starting September 1st. Even for spring grazing, you won’t get much if you don’t plant starting September 15.

If possible, for most of you in Barton County, September 24 through October 15 is the ideal window. I saw a lot of problems this year with wheat planted both earlier and later than that, especially if it was not pastured. So, don’t be the early bird, just be on time.

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