Assuming reasonably good weather in October and November, Steve Harrison expects Louisiana producers to plant the largest wheat crop since he began work in the state over 20 years ago.
“In the spring of 1985, we had 500,000 acres of wheat,” said the LSU AgCenter small grains breeder at the recent Dean Lee Research Station field day outside Alexandria, La. “And we’ve been going downhill ever since. However, I’m confident that this year we’ll be over 300,000 acres and perhaps over 400,000.”
Seed availability will be a big factor in how much wheat will be planted. “Our neighbors to the north who provide a lot of our wheat seed had severe freeze injury last spring. That damaged a lot of our seed supply. The Arkansas (Plant) Board scrambled quickly to allow conversions of some good wheat fields into seed fields that weren’t originally intended as such.”
Harrison prefers to choose wheat varieties based on at least two years of data. In Alexandria, “it doesn’t matter if you check data from north or south Louisiana — the location here is a ‘tweener.’ But go through the variety list and find the varieties that have performed well for a couple of years.”
Then, check the test weights. “That’s important. If you go to an elevator with a 55-pound test weight in May, you aren’t going to get $5 per bushel. You’ll be docked rather severely for a 55-pound test weight.”
Disease resistance and heading dates are also important. Match the heading date with your planting date. “Late October in central Louisiana is an ideal planting time. If I could plant all my wheat on one day, it would be Oct. 28. However, as you travel north to Monroe, move the planting date a couple of weeks earlier. As you move south to Baton Rouge, plant several weeks later.”
Plant late-heading varieties first and early-heading varieties like LA482 last. Planting an early-heading variety early increases chances it will get too much warm weather, will move too fast and will more likely experience spring freeze damage.
“Varieties that will be available this fall include 841, which we’ve grown a lot. Others are Terral 8558, DKGR9108, Croplan 8302, and Coker 9553.
“Those varieties are generally available in a normal year. However, right now, I promise you every bag of seed in those varieties is accounted.
“As soon as you finish picking up doves from the Labor Day hunt, go book your seed. Otherwise, you’ll end up growing varieties that aren’t adapted to this region and that we don’t have good data for. And it’ll take a lot more scrambling to make a decent wheat crop out of those varieties.”
If forced to use a second tier variety, go back and look at old variety data from Louisiana. See what used to do well in the state. “Plant that rather than something that did well in northern Arkansas last year. If you make central-Louisiana wheat choices based on data from northern Arkansas, you’ll be disappointed. You’re better off planting a variety that used to do well here that may be a bit susceptible to disease. Just plan on putting out a fungicide at flag-leaf.”
Two of the most crucial decisions in wheat management are drainage and early-season weed control. “Wheat doesn’t mind heavy soils but it doesn’t like going underwater. It needs a lot of surface drainage.” Second, in terms of weed control, wheat is very competitive if planted into a clean seedbed.
“If you put out 2 ounces of Sencor early and get rid of the poanna and small grasses coming up and allow the wheat crop to start first, it will do well.”
Is it better to put the Sencor out before planting or after achieving a stand? “For several reasons, you’re better off getting the stand first. One, if the seed is just germinating, a heavy rain could wash the Sencor down the plant. That can cause severe damage.
“I prefer to get the crop up to two-leaf stage before putting out the Sencor. You might want to put out Roundup a week prior to planting and burn down anything in the field.”