Planting wheat early is very tempting, but can limit wheat grain productivity more than any other factor. In fact, our record wheat yields this year were likely promoted by dry conditions which delayed planting until early November last fall.

Records from the Kentucky Wheat Production Contest (where winners typically produce more than 100 bushels per acre) justify the significance of timely planting. Top-yielding plots rarely result from plantings prior to the recommended dates.

Planting wheat early needlessly exposes it to developmental, fertility, weed and numerous pest problems which ultimately limit yield potential. Our mild Southern winters further intensify this issue, because the onset and degree of wheat dormancy may vary considerably from year to year. Thus, the developmental advantages gained from planting summer crops early, such as corn and soybeans, do not apply to winter wheat.

The adverse effects from excessive fall growth include spring freeze injury, development of barley yellow dwarf virus, Hessian fly and armyworm infestation, more disease infection, more weed competition, poor nutrient use, and increased lodging.

Growers in both north and south Mississippi have experienced severe freeze injury during recent seasons and ensuing yield loss generally increases drastically with early-maturing wheat. Thus, we need to carefully manage variety maturity and planting date, because both factors affect wheat maturity.

Early-maturing varieties should be planted later than normal, to avoid excessive development, which could expose them to substantial freeze damage in the spring. Conversely, late-maturing wheat varieties should be planted before early varieties. We should also plant multiple varieties differing in maturity, to spread risk, since seasonal temperatures also influence maturity.

Planting dates

Our suggested wheat planting dates (within 10 to 14 days of the average first fall freeze date) should provide warm enough temperatures and long enough days for seedling emergence and tillering to begin before dormancy occurs. This can vary considerably depending upon seasonal temperatures, but normally corresponds to:

• North and central Mississippi: Oct. 15 to Nov. 10.

• Delta region: Oct. 20 to Nov. 15

• South Mississippi: Nov. 1 to Nov. 25

• Coastal region: Nov. 15 to Dec. 10

Grain drill

Although wheat may be successfully established using various rudimentary broadcast planting methods, I generally recommend planting your grain crop with a drill to optimize stand establishment, vigor and seedling survival. By planting wheat with a grain drill using sound management techniques, you can use more conservative wheat seeding rates without reducing productivity.

While it is important to strive for specific planting standards, wheat does have outstanding capability to compensate for wide variation of plant density. Our normal planting recommendation is to strive to establish 1 million to 1.3 million wheat plants per acre or 23 to 30 plants per square foot.