According to Steve Harrison, LSU AgCenter small grain breeder, the keys to a good wheat crop in Louisiana include:
• Pick several good varieties. “Two-year data is better than one year. Regional data are better than single-location data. Because of the rapid turnover in the variety trials, two-year data are better than three-year data. If you wait for three-year data to try a variety, you’ll be in the fourth year of that variety and two good years may mask a poor year that occurred when disease races changed in the third year.”
• Pay attention not only to yield data but also to heading dates, test weights and disease packages.
• Proper drainage. “Drainage is the paramount. Wheat doesn’t like wet feet.”
• Use a proper planting date. “The month of October is the proper date along I-20. The month of November is the proper date along I-10. So the optimum planting window is usually between Oct. 15 and Nov. 15 in central Louisiana.
• Planting early causes more problems than planting late. “You can push planting by as much as a month on the late side. Don’t push it more than 10 days on the early side. I know rains can cause crops not to be planted. Some years, I’m a nervous wreck because it gets to be November and it’s too wet. But planting too early is a mistake.”
• Early season weed control. “Wheat is a marvelously competitive, compensatory crop if you’ll only let the seedlings grow and tiller. Five or six plants per square foot will provide a normal yield if allowed to grow and tiller.”
• Disease susceptibility and low test weights can cost you. “We planted a lot of AGS2000 this year. It’s a very high-yielding, broadly adapted, wonderful variety out of the University of Georgia. But it’s susceptible to stripe rust. So if you plant that variety (be prepared) to spray and spend $20 or $30 on two applications.
• Heading dates are normally inversely related to the target planting date. “Go with early headers later and late headers earlier.”
• Seeding rates. “Recommended seeding rates in Mississippi, Arkansas and North Carolina are a little higher than we need in Louisiana. That’s because our wheat crop grows all winter, tillering all the while. I think we need a target of 24 to 36 plants per square foot. I’m happy with 24 and wouldn’t plow under a field with only 12. That means, I think we need a seeding rate of 30 to 40 seed per square foot.”
A test several years ago showed a 15-pound seeding rate provided a yield of 76 bushels per acre, almost as much as a 120-pound seeding rate. The reason: each plant, on average, had 10 tillers.
“Going with a seeding rate of 120 pounds resulted in 29 plants per square foot, but there were only 1.6 tillers per plant and the tiller count per square foot was essentially the same as the 15-pound rate. Let wheat tiller. Most stands will compensate.
“And yield topped out at around 30 pounds of seed per acre. That’s been true nearly every time we’ve looked at seeding rates.”
Arkansas tests have shown similar results. “Once they reach around 60 pounds of seed per acre, you’re at the top of the plateau. You won’t get much more benefit from going with a higher rate.”
• Row spacing isn’t a major concern for Louisiana wheat.
• Fertilization. “For fertilization, I favor 100 pounds of urea applied twice — once in late January or early February and another 100 pounds three or four weeks later.”
For more on LSU wheat, see www.agronomy.lsu.edu/LSUwheat/LSUWHEAT.html.