When it comes to growing winter wheat, some aim for grain, other producers seek livestock forage, while others want both.
Jeff Edwards, associate professor and Extension small-grain specialist, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater, understands many growers in the Southwest want grain and forage. With good dual-purpose varieties available and some management, Edwards says grazing and grain can work together.
• Grain and forage goals are both obtainable in wheat production.
• Early planting of wheat can have some impact on grain yield.
• Variety selection is the single most important producer decision.
Edwards says it is a realistic goal to achieve 3,000 pounds of forage per acre from wheat, followed by a 50-bushel-per-acre grain yield.
He also feels this is possible with upfront anhydrous ammonia in the fall without having to topdress wheat with nitrogen later, after the stocker cattle are removed from wheat pasture before spring.Obviously that assumes rainfall returns to the Great Southwest.
Edwards also notes when knifing in the fertilizer, the moisture zone needs to be sealed.
There’s no doubt that early planting of wheat can reduce grain yields some. But many stock producers may feel the slight reduction in potential grain yield is more than justified by the beef gained from grazing, especially with today’s strong cattle prices.
In Oklahoma, Edwards says Labor Day through Sept. 15 is considered early planting. But he notes that in a 10-year OSU study, September seeding only reduced overall grain yield by 7%.
Those seeking strictly grain want to hit a more optimum Oct. 10-15 planting window, or thereabouts.
But sometimes Mother Nature makes the decision, and that may be especially true in 2011. Edwards says after such an extraordinary drought in Oklahoma and Texas, that if good rains were to return this fall, many producers might likely plant whenever they had the moisture in order to get a new wheat crop to emerge for a good stand.
For those already having decided to aim for forage, Edwards emphasizes that a seeding rate of 2 bushels per acre (120 pounds) will produce greater forage more quickly than a seeding rate of just 1 bushel per acre (60 pounds).
Edwards notes OSU has many years of research supporting that 2-bushel seeding rate for forage.
Start with variety
Whether your goal is grain, forage, or both, Todd Baughman says it all must start with variety selection.
The Texas AgriLife Extension Service agronomist, Vernon, notes that’s a big decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“Variety will be the single most important decision you make, because once that decision is made, you can’t go back,” Baughman says. “You can tweak fertilizer, weed control, insect control, and other things during the season, but the variety decision stays the same.”
Nitrogen is the single most important nutrient for yield. Nevertheless, Baughman says the N doesn’t always need to be one giant application in the fall, especially in his part of the world. He says a split application of N, such as half in the fall and the rest in spring, can work best for many.
And depending on spring weather conditions, that gives a producer the option to decide whether the wheat crop’s potential in the spring justifies the second application. That can save a lot of dollars.Phosphorus also can be important if deficient.
OSU’s Edwards says low pH also hurts wheat. Lime can help raise the pH of acidic soils. An incorporation of lime can correct the soil pH to keep aluminum from tying up phosphorus.
Beyond that, varieties like Duster and Endurance have shown to cope better with low-pH soils.
Baughman says many weeds can be controlled more effectively in fall than spring. He suggests taking out wild oats in the fall. And four to five weeks after seeding wheat, Baughman also would advise treating for rescuegrass before it gets out of hand.
Many producers are having trouble with horseweed (aka marestail). Baughman says 2, 4-D or Banvel will give good control, especially when the horseweed is caught at an early growth stage.
Baughman says one management tool for getting a good wheat stand is simple, although he knows producers get in a hurry to finish seeding. He suggests slowing down field speed with the grain drill or seeder.
“There shouldn’t be bouncing,” he says. “That impacts seeding depth.”
This article published in the October, 2011 edition of THE FARMER-STOCKMAN.