Now that spring is finally here, it is time to assess what may have happened, what it means, and make plans for the coming crop year. Conditions in the area were not helpful in planting and establishing winter wheat. While the weather contributed to a rapid, timely harvest of fall crops, dry conditions led to uneven wheat stands, overall poor fall growth, and in many cases delayed wheat emergence and tillering. Wheat was further stressed by several periods of extreme cold accompanied by strong winds and relatively little or no snow cover. In between were periods of warm windy weather that further depleted soil moisture. The last week has seen seasonal to above normal temperatures, strong winds, and fortunately for some producers, beneficial rains. So where is the 2011 wheat crop as of today?
Concerning winterkill, there are likely fields in the area where wheat stands were damaged by the severe cold. The effects of cold temperature were made worse because of the dry soil conditions. The effect on yield is a function of how much the stand was reduced by and the ability of the surviving plants to compensate through maintain tillers. Stand loss should be readily apparent by now but it is important to remember that under good weather conditions, wheat has a large ability to compensate for stand loss.
The simple answer is to look at each field and evaluate them one by one. While I have not seen any wheat that has jointed, some wheat fields, especially those that were summer fallowed or planted significantly earlier than the fly free date have greened up nicely, tillered adequately, and are growing well considering the conditions. In other fields, wheat just emerged recently and is very thin and spotty. It is likely this late emerging wheat, germinated last year and just sat in the ground until recently. In that case, it should have vernalized and will set a head to produce grain. If it didn’t germinate until recently, the prospects of meaningful grain production is minimal.
How much production is possible will depend on the number of tillers that were set. Tillers are only formed in the fall but most visible growth is in the spring. If the wheat was able to set tillers last fall, a reasonable yield is still possible with favorable growing conditions.
Normally by now, most wheat would be at or close to jointing. However, this year’s winter conditions have delayed wheat plant development. If we have normal to below normal temperatures and good moisture, the crop should be alright. A positive to the stage of wheat growth this year is that the crop should be less susceptible to a late spring freeze than usual.
The keys to this year’s wheat crop include assessing the yield potential of the crop and determining whether to keep it or move one. If keeping the crop, make sure adequate nitrogen is available as we enter the critical period for head development. Don’t skimp of reasonable weed control. Thinner stands are much more susceptible to weed problems. But be careful not to apply herbicides such as 2,4-D until tillers have developed. Finally, monitor for insects (greenbugs, cutworms, Hessian fly) and diseases (tan spot, leaf rust, etc.). Be prepared to address these problems promptly.
Everyone who grows wheat understands the old adage that wheat has nine lives. While the wheat crop in 2011 is not going to set any records, the possibility still exists for an overall average year if nature cooperates. The key is in timely assessment of conditions and implementation of management decisions.
Dr. Victor L. Martin is the agriculture instructor/coordinator for Barton Community College. He can be reached at 620-792-9207, ext. 207.