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Advantages and disadvantages of early planted wheat
Dr. Victor Martin

As of September the areas of abnormally dry and moderate drought are were reduced significantly, especially in our area. Except for the northeast corner Barton county is out of even abnormally dry conditions. All of Stafford county is out of any abnormally dry conditions. In fact, some parts of the area received over three inches and now waiting to dry out to get back in the field. Corn harvest is starting and milo is turning color rapidly. The six to ten-day outlook (Sept. 15 to 19) indicates well above normal temperatures and below normal precipitation.  The eight to 14-day outlook (Sept. 17 to 23) indicates more of the same and not just hot for us but almost the entire Corn Belt. This will rapidly deplete soil moisture and speed up drydown for corn and milo. It will also rush soybean maturity. Wheat planting time is almost upon us. You will see K-State Research & Extension and local extension agents put out various releases on not planting early and the disadvantages.  While these are certainly correct, are there any reasons to plant early?

First, what are the potential disadvantages to planting early?

• Planting date recommendations are based on the average Hessian fly free date. In Barton County it’s the last week of September and in Stafford the first week of October. Hessian fly infestations can significantly impact wheat yields.

• Diseases such as the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus and Barley Yellow Dwarf are more likely with early planting and again significantly impact growth and yield.  

• Planting too early can result in excessive fall growth and deplete soil moisture. This can leave the growing point more vulnerable to winterkill and deplete soil moisture when breaking dormancy.

• Insect pressure in general, pests like armyworm are more likely.

• Finally, germination problems from excessive soil temperatures.

Are there any reasons then to plant early?  And in Barton/Stafford Counties we are saying about now.  Yes.

• When grazing wheat, planting early allows for establishment of adequate top growth and strong roots to allow grazing hopefully by mid-October.

• Lower seeding rates. When planting several weeks earlier than normal, a lower seeding rate is possible as with adequate moisture wheat will tiller to a greater extent.

• If the long-term outlook is for cooler than average temperatures, earlier planting allows time for tiller establishment and foliage to cover the surface which can aid in weed control and in wheat overwintering.

• For producers planting on sandier ground, especially south of the river, they need to cover the ground as most wheat isn’t no-till. Add into the equation that sandier soils can lose surface moisture rapidly, if you have surface moisture, you plant wheat early to get it established and develop a deeper root system down into subsurface moisture.

• The risks in planting earlier are less than the risks in late planting.

Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207, or