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Wheat Planting Roulette
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Dr. Victor L. Martin

This column has avoided discussing the fall wheat planting dilemma as long as possible. Since wheat is now going in the ground and as you read this there is less than a week until October, the topic can’t be put off any longer. First I need to confess that I am a lousy gambler and the only way I could make a small fortune in Vegas is to start with a big one.
Where are we weather-wise? The temperatures have moderated and are good for wheat germination and growth. This also helps decrease soil water loss from evaporation. The area has received spotty rains that while welcome, really didn’t do much to help. Area producers are dealing with three possibilities and as we discuss them remember the area is still not at the fly free planting date and we are approximately 40 days from starting to hit super concern mode.
1. The soil is dry and missed out on what rain fell. There is no subsoil moisture. Producers can plant wheat now and wait (hope) for rain to bring the wheat up and continued moisture to get through the winter. Under this option, a treated seed is a wise choice to help the seed survive while it waits for rain. The other option is to wait until rain, see how much goes into the profile and decide if conditions are fit to put wheat in the ground. There are two concerns with this option. If too much moisture comes at once it can delay planting while waiting for the soil to dry enough. Or the rains don’t come until later, if at all.  Using this option, be prepared to increase your seeding rate as you move past mid-October. Remember that wheat will vernalize and head out if germinated, even if it hasn’t emerged and it can only do that if it is in the ground.
2. The soil has received enough rain to have the surface six to ten inches fairly moist with good enough moisture to get the crop established. There are patches here and there, especially as you move north, that have pretty good moisture. The best bet is to not do anything to lose soil moisture and get the wheat in the ground and not too shallow. Normal seeding rates for this are fine. And to assist the crop, with the current cash price for wheat, seed treatment will likely pay.
3. The soil received just enough rain to wet the top inch or two but below that depth the ground is quite dry. This is actually the diciest situation. Situations 1 and 2 are pretty cut and dry; too dry or adequate moisture. Here, I would recommend waiting a week or so and hope for meaningful rain. If it didn’t come and the soil was getting drier, plant, if possible, below the moisture (this depends on coleoptile length and how deep you have to go). Why? The worst thing that could happen here is enough moisture for germination and even enough for emergence. Then the wheat runs out of moisture and/or there’s a hot spell at a very vulnerable stage and the field is severely stressed or dies.
Hopefully by next Sunday, the area will have received nice rains (after a lot of wheat went in) and things look so good the wheat market drops some. We can hope.