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Choose Wheat Varieties to Stack the Deck Against Mother Nature

Wheat Variety Selection with Brett Reese

Making sound decisions on seed varieties, plant populations, and disease and insect control can make a significant dollar difference in your wheat crop.

While many growers discount the value of wheat as a cash crop, growers who invest the time to make common-sense pre-season planting decisions usually bin more grain at harvest than those who ignore the importance of variety selection, disease resistance, maturity dates, seeding rates and seed treatment.

A farmer holding a wheat stalk

Across the Southeast most wheat growers face a Hessian fly cutoff date to sow wheat and then find themselves staring down the barrel of the first freeze. That freeze can come early or late, making the choice of early- or late-season wheat varieties very important. A good guess on varietal maturity dates works with the season, but the wrong choice puts the crop behind from the very start.

Many growers want to plant a variety that delivers high yield potential and good forage results in local wheat variety performance tests, but varieties chosen must grow well under the conditions in which they are sown or harvest results can be disappointing.

The best bet to work around the vagaries of fickle fall weather is to spread the weather risk by planting 50:50 early- and late-maturing varieties, or using a third-third-and-third variety selection aimed at taking advantage of whatever Mother Nature sends throughout the winter. There are really no rules of thumb for this decision, but any risk management is better than none.

Plant Populations

Another variable growers can control for optimum performance of their wheat enterprise is seeds sown per acre.

Experts recommend 1.5- to 1.8-million seeds per acre for winter wheat, but if you plant two bags or three bags per acre, because you’ve always done it that way, you are likely setting yourself up for a less-than-productive wheat harvest. Because seed size depends upon growing conditions, seed wheat varies from year to year as much as from 10,000 seeds to 17,000 seeds per pound.

That makes calibrating your drill to the size of seed wheat very important in maintaining optimum seed counts per acre – particularly if planting is delayed more than two weeks past the optimum planting date for your area. Research shows after that period, the top wheat production comes by increasing planting rates by 100,000 seeds per acre per week.

Seed wheat bags are labeled as to seeds per pound. Knowing that figure and spending time accurately calibrating a drill to the actual size of the seed can make a big difference in a wheat crop’s bottom line.

Pest and Disease Resistance

Sticking with recommended varieties known to have resistance to diseases common to your growing area is another factor in stacking the deck in favor of a more productive harvest.

Many growers and consultants also believe it’s a good investment to use treated seed, particularly in years when early season conditions are cool and damp, making them conducive to soil-borne plant diseases. Fungicides are important during those early season days from planting to emergence, and seed treatments for aphids also can pay dividends later in the season in years when insect pressure is high.

All of these factors taken together are reason to buy commercial seed wheat, because of labeled germination rates, seeds per pound measurement, and in some cases, seed treatment.

Visit with your Southern States Cooperative representative for help in selecting the varieties to maximize the performance of your wheat planting investment.

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