Winter wheat planting tips

The word on farm is there is going to be a lot of winter wheat planted this fall in the Dakotas because of all the prevented planting acres, now estimated at 6.3 million acres in North Dakota alone.

Some producers are into their second and third years of prevented planting and are pushing the crop insurance eligibility limit for some fields. Fortunately, the Risk Management Agency has changed its policy from having to plant a crop one-in-three years to one-in-four years to remain eligible for insurance coverage. This takes some pressure off, but it seems like once a field gets wet, it’s hard to get a crop in the ground in the spring.

Producers may want to consider planting a cover crop as soon as possible. The cover crop will soak up some soil moisture. Some cover crops can also serve as a source of standing residue for snow catch to insulate winter wheat and assure survival.

Key Points

A lot of winter wheat is expected to be planted in the Dakotas this fall.

Consider planting a cover crop to soak up soil moisture.

Be sure to “break the green bridge” when seeding winter wheat.

Extension services, the National Resources Conservation Service, soil conservation districts and industry can offer guidance on cover crop selection and management. Steve Dvorak at Ducks Unlimited is also well versed, since he used to work for Pulse USA where he helped develop cover crop mixes. You can find a very informative chart regarding cover crop moisture use and other characteristics at the Mandan ARS Station website and the Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action websites.

There are precautions to keep in mind when planting a cover crop on prevented planting fields. For example, RMA requires that the cover crop cannot go to seed. If the cover crop reaches that stage, it either needs to be clipped, burned down with a herbicide or destroyed in some manner. Check with your crop insurance agent.

Winter wheat

Winter wheat offers a great opportunity to have a crop seeded in September, which is generally considerably drier than April and May. Last fall was wet, too, but those who were able to seed some winter wheat last fall now wish they could have seeded more. Those who did not seed wish they had tried seeding later in September rather than stopping at the normal cutoff dates of Sept. 20-25.

If you have standing residue to catch snow, you should be able to seed to the end of September in most of North Dakota and into the first week of October in the southern part of the state and northern South Dakota. If standing cover is minimal, select a winter wheat variety that is winter-hardy, increase your seeding rate, include a starter fertilizer with phosphate and seed during the early part of the recommended seeding window.

Be sure to “break the green bridge” when seeding winter wheat. It will help prevent the spread of wheat streak mosaic virus, or WSMV. The wheat curl mite, which lives five to seven days and needs a grass plant host, transmits WSMV. Wheat is its favorite host, but it will survive on corn, other grass crops and certain grassy weeds. The key to control WSMV is to have all the green grassy plant growth dead in the field for a two-week period prior to winter wheat emergence. It is also important to control volunteer winter wheat in harvested winter wheat fields prior to the next season to eliminate the virus source for the mites that return in the spring.

Start seeding around Sept. 15 or later if there is any concern for the WSMV. Seeding later is beneficial because as the air temperatures decrease, mite activity really slows down, reducing the risk of infection.

More tips

Some other winter wheat tips include:

Line up winter wheat seed soon. The varieties Jerry and Wesley are not protected by plant variety protection laws.

If standing cover is limiting, select a winter-hardy variety and/or plant a cover crop.

Apply phosphorus with the seed or in a band near the seed.

Seed 1 to 1.5 inches deep.

Seed at a rate of 1.2 million pure live seeds per acre. Some producers increase the rate as they approach Sept. 25.

Treat the seed, especially if seeding into small-grain residue.

Extra perk

In counties where winter wheat crop insurance isn’t available, winter wheat can have a positive impact on overall wheat insurance yields. Wheat crop insurance yields are based on the average of hard red spring wheat and winter wheat yields. Many producers report their crop insurance yield increased 5 to 20 bushels per acre after incorporating winter wheat into their rotation for several years.

VanderVorst is an agronomist with Ducks Unlimited, Bismarck, N.D.


FALL SEEDING: Winter wheat, which can be seeded through August and September, may be the crop to plant on fields that were too wet to seed this spring.

This article published in the August, 2011 edition of DAKOTA FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.