Since late summer, Ed Twidwell has been busy answering Louisiana farmers' wheat-related questions.
“With high wheat prices, there's a lot of interest in the crop in Louisiana,” says the LSU AgCenter wheat specialist.
“In the last decade or so, we've averaged between 100,000 and 150,000 acres planted. This year we're expecting more than 300,000 acres to be planted.”
Many farmers are entering the wheat fray for the first time. “There's a mix of those who are returning to wheat after a long lay-off and those who are novices. That should make for an interesting year.”
Lately, one key concern for growers is planting date. Typically, the state is divided in two with Alexandria being the dividing line.
“Anything south of there has one set of dates and anything north has another set. For north Louisiana, the planting window is between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15. So, we're in that window currently.” In the third week of October, rain kept some Louisiana farmers out of the field but when it clears, “folks in north Louisiana will be heading to the fields. I'm a bit more concerned about planting in south Louisiana. Hopefully, they won't plant too early.
“I'm not excited about planting wheat in central and south Louisiana until after Nov. 1. The reason for that later planting date is we have such a long growing season. Planting too early can be a bad idea. Last year, the Easter freeze in Arkansas and Missouri showed that.”
Another frequent topic brought to Twidwell is seeding rate. “As I travel the state, rates are all over the board. There are farmers who go with rates as low as 30 pounds and those who go up to 180 pounds per acre. That's a wide variation.”
How much seed growers use usually depends on how a seedbed is prepared. “If they're capable of preparing a good seedbed on well-drained soil and use a grain drill, they can get by with 60 pounds of seed per acre without trouble.”
Conversely, if growers don't prepare a very good seedbed in areas that are poorly drained — “and I usually find farmers stick wheat on land that isn't ideal” — and broadcast seed, then the seeding rate must be increased.
“That would be from 75 pounds to 120 pounds per acre. I normally don't agree with planting much over 120 pounds per acre. That's 2 bushels worth of seed. I know some producers prefer to use more than that, but I haven't seen research to justify it.”
Twidwell strongly recommends utilizing a grain drill. That will allow a farmer to get by with less seed, and he can control planting depth.
“He can put the seed about an inch deep, which is what we want. Seed will germinate and emerge uniformly. If you broadcast seed and then disk or harrow it, you don't have as good control over placement. Some of it will be placed deep and other seed with stay on top of the soil. It's hit-and-miss. But a lot of producers use that method because they don't have access to a grain drill.”
At recent producer wheat meetings in northeast Louisiana farmers have asked about fall fertilizer applications. “To check phosphorus and potassium, you'll need a soil test,” says Rick Mascagni, an LSU AgCenter research agronomist stationed at the Northeast Research Station near St. Joseph.
“Ideally, it would be nice to put those out in the fall because it's nice to incorporate it. That's also true of any lime that's required.”
What about fall nitrogen? “In south Louisiana, where wheat can be behind rice, you definitely need a shot of nitrogen in the fall. Following rice, there's also a good possibility you'll need a shot of phosphorus.
“Our recommendations also say you may get a benefit from a nitrogen application following corn or grain sorghum — crops where you turn a lot of plant matter under the ground. That's because that material will tie up a lot of the N as it breaks down. But yield responses to applications in those situations are inconsistent.
“The other time you may need fall nitrogen is if you plant wheat very late. If that happens, the recommendation is for 15 to 20 pounds of N.”
Come spring, nitrogen is based on soil type. Some growers split the application. In general, however, “splitting it showed little response. Your initial application should be based on growth stage versus calendar date. The nice thing about wheat is since it's fertilized in the cool of the year, urea can be used. It's rather efficient and you won't lose a lot of volatilization. That isn't true if applied to cotton when the temperatures are warmer.”
Mascagni says sulfur is another issue in wheat, particularly on sandier soils. Some with a lack of sulfur prefer ammonium sulfate — at least for the first 30 or 40 units. “They apply another shot of N a couple of weeks later.”
Operators who double-crop soybeans behind wheat “want to know if fall-applied P and K will take care of both the wheat and beans. LSU doesn't have a recommendation for that. Consensus is a grower shouldn't have to apply twice as much to take care of both crops.
“If you put out, say, 40 pounds of fertilizer on your wheat, there will be some carryover. But we don't have a solid read on the exact amount. In those situations, the main thing to do is take a soil sample and go from there.”
In northeast Louisiana are many cornfields that appear to be going into wheat, says Mascagni. But nothing is for sure since “we've been waiting for a break in the weather. Our planting window up here is from Oct. 15 to Nov. 15. I haven't seen any wheat being planted, though. And that's good — it hasn't gone in too early. Assuming the ground dries out, a bunch will be planted (the week of Oct. 22).”
As in other Mid-South states, Louisiana producers have had a difficult time finding varieties they want.
“Most experienced growers had seed early on,” says Twidwell. “For the novice wheat producer who has only second-choice wheat varieties, it's hard to provide much guidance. Often we don't know how they'll perform in the South's growing conditions. They may not have needed disease resistance and we don't know how winter-hardy they are.”
Twidwell says any producer using bin-run seed “definitely needs a germination test on any of that seed. Depending on storage conditions, the seed can easily lose germination. The producers may need to increase the seeding rate to compensate for any of that loss.”