Mid-south farmers have begun preparation for the upcoming wheat season. Knowing the future would be very helpful in planning and producing a successful crop. Since predicting weather and pests is not an exact science, however, producers must stack the deck in their favor with various production tools and practices.
Wheat yields varied across the Mid-South in 2000-01. In the Deep South, yields were outstanding. Extremely cold and wet conditions in the Mid-South reduced average yields by 5 to 10 bushels per acre. The better-yielding fields in 2000-01 were planted in the first half of October.
Variety selection is one of the most important decisions a producer makes. It has been estimated that 60 percent of yield is determined by variety selection. Many high-yielding, well-adapted varieties are available. Most universities conduct variety trials across the wheat-producing regions, and the information is extremely valuable in selecting varieties. Multiple-site trials provide broad information on disease reactions and variety characteristics.
Two- and three-year yield averages by location are very important in selecting varieties with stable yields across different environments. Producers should utilize the data from the experiment stations as it relates to the their farm location and soil texture.
Planting varieties with good disease resistance is also very important, especially where soilborne viruses occur.
Varieties demonstrating excellent quality traits such as test weight will produce greater returns due to fewer discounts at the elevator.
Lodging is another important factor for producers to evaluate. Sabbe, released by the University of Arkansas Experiment Station, is resistant to lodging. In nitrogen rate trials, Sabbe continues to stand with nitrogen rates exceeding 200 pounds per acre.
High-yielding wheat requires proper seedbed preparation and seeding rates. Firm, moist soil is essential in establishing stands. Consistent planting depth of 1 to 1.5 inches is also important in establishing a uniform stand. Wheat should be planted according to seed per square foot instead of pounds or bushels per acre.
Seed size by variety can range from 10,000 to 16,000 seed per pound. Under ideal conditions, 25 to 30 seeds per foot square should be drill seeded.
Rough seedbeds, no-till planting, broadcast seeding and/or late planting will require seeding rates of 35 to 40 seeds per foot square.
High-quality seed free of noxious weeds is recommended, as are seed treatments to prevent loose smut. Dividend and Raxil seed treatments have provided the best results.
Producers should plant wheat in the optimum planting window. In Arkansas, the optimum planting window ranges from Oct. 1 to Nov. 1 in north Arkansas, Oct. 10 through Nov. 10 in central Arkansas, and Oct. 15 through Nov. 20 in south Arkansas.
Data collected by the University of Arkansas Wheat Verification Program demonstrates that planting in the first two weeks of the planting window result in the highest yields.
Wheat varieties should be planted according to maturity. A late-maturing variety should be planted at the beginning of the optimum window followed by a medium- to early-maturing variety a week or so later.
Typically, the longer-season varieties grow slower in the fall, allowing planting at the beginning of the planting window without the concern for freeze damage later. On the other hand, early-maturing varieties allow for later planting due to their rapid growth.
In most years, the early-maturing varieties will be ready to harvest two or three days earlier than full-season varieties. For most producers, the difference is important in maintaining high-quality wheat at the proper moisture level.
A good representative soil sample should be taken to tailor soil fertility requirements. Proper soil pH is essential to get maximum benefit of fertilizers.
When wheat follows corn, grain sorghum or rice, nitrogen should be applied at a rate of 20 to 40 pounds per acre. Wheat following soybeans or in followed fields will not require nitrogen.
If the wheat is planted later than the optimum time, 20 to 40 pounds of nitrogen should be applied. Recent data suggest that phosphorus fertilization can be delayed until late winter. DAP (18-46-0) can be applied in late January or early February. The nitrogen in DAP can be credited to the spring nitrogen requirement.
Excessive water standing in a wheat field can be very detrimental. Drainage to direct excess water from the field is essential to produce high yields. Construct furrows on 50- to 100-foot intervals on relatively flat soils. These furrows must be directed toward and connected to free-flowing ditches or canals to quickly remove excessive surface water.
William Johnson is the Arkansas Extension wheat and feed grains specialist.