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Early-Season Management Vital for Top Wheat Performance

Early Season Wheat Management with Matt Jolly

Starting clean and staying clean keeps weeds at bay, provides time to manage early-season insect and disease challenges.

Getting the winter wheat crop off to a good start by controlling weed pressure goes a long way toward efficient harvest and greater yields at harvest.

One of the most important management steps in giving wheat the best chance for success is to “start clean and stay clean” throughout the season. That means controlling grassy weeds which germinate in the fall and grow alongside the wheat crop. A pre-plant tank-mix burndown application containing either glyphosate or gramoxone plus a long-acting residual grass herbicide is the one-two punch for successful grass control.

A bag of wheat

Several grass control products are available, but for the most efficient use of inputs and application time, knowing the exact weed species in the field is very important. For example spraying rye grass with a product designed to control wild blue grass isn’t effective, so knowing and properly treating the weeds present in a given field is the only way to get the most from herbicide dollars.

Throughout the Southeast wheat growers are encountering rye grass, wild bluegrass, brome species and cheat – all of which, if left unattended, will grow and compete with the wheat in the early season, and then also can cause harvesting problems. These species can look surprisingly similar when they have just emerged, so consulting weed identification guides from land-grant universities, or getting the knowledgeable eye of a crop consultant in the field within the first several weeks after planting can pay big dividends in reducing weed competition throughout the season. Effective early-season weed control also pays off in preventing excess green matter in the combine at harvest.

Another benefit of that long-residual grass herbicide application is keeping wheat fields clean to prevent problem species from reproducing and being spread by the combine during harvest. Only by preventing these weeds from reproducing can a grower hope to reduce weed pressure in the future.

Early-season tank-mix applications also can provide an add-on opportunity to apply additional carbon to the fields using products such as HumiTill to enhance decomposition of field residue and encourage healthy populations of soil microbes.

Early-Season Scouting

In addition to throttling early-season grassy weeds, it’s important to closely monitor wheat fields for annual broadleaf weeds which usually can be controlled easily if they are stopped in their early growth stages.

Using images of fields generated from aerial, satellite or locally-operated camera-equipped drones can be another useful tool in “seeing” differences in a newly-emerged wheat field. Then, in-field scouting is the next step to diagnose what might be responsible for those differences.

Also, field scouting during those first weeks after planting can catch problems with stand emergence, and very importantly, keep an eye on potential aphid outbreaks in young wheat.

Not all wheat fields across the Southeast will have aphid infestations, but those which do will likely not show any symptoms until later in the season. Aphids are carriers of barley yellow dwarf virus and other diseases which can severely damage yields. Symptoms of the diseases don’t appear until late in the growing season, and then there’s no control available. So, taking early-season aphid counts is time well spent in an overall wheat management program. An effective pesticide application when pest levels reach threshold is advised, and your Southern States representative can assist with determining when and what to apply.

See your Southern States representative for more information on weed and pest control options to get your wheat crop off to a healthy and productive start.

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