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Eight Ways to Improve Wheat Planting Success

Whatever the soil moisture conditions at wheat planting time,
there are a few important steps producers can take to improve their chances of
getting a good stand of wheat, says Jim Shroyer, Kansas State University
agronomist emeritus.

  • Proper tractor speed. It is best to use a tractor speed of
    between 5 and 6 miles per hour in most cases when drilling wheat, depending on
    the amount of down pressure on the openers. If higher speeds are used, the
    openers can tend to “ride up” in the soil every now and then if down pressure
    is insufficient.
  • Proper, uniform seeding depth. The ideal planting depth for
    wheat in most cases is about 1.5 inches. When planting early into very warm
    soils, it is especially important not to plant too deeply since coleoptile
    lengths are shorter than normal under warm conditions. On the other extreme,
    producers should also be especially careful not to plant too deeply when
    planting later than the recommended time into very cool soils. Getting a
    uniform seeding depth is also important. Where producers are planting into
    fields with heavy residue, or where there is uneven distribution of chaff from
    the previous crop, uneven planting depth can be a serious problem. In those
    situations, it is common to end up with poor stand establishment in areas of
    the field where the drill opener rode up over the residue or chaff, and was
    unable to penetrate the soil to the same depth as in other areas of the field.
  • Firm seedbed. Planting into loose, fluffy soils can be a problem
    where soils have been tilled repeatedly during the summer. When seeds are
    planted into loose soils, rains in the fall will settle the soil and leave the
    crowns of the seedlings too close to the soil surface. Having a good closing
    system behind the drill openers - with adequate down pressure -should help.
  • Optimal planting time. In general, wheat should be
    planted somewhere around the Hessian fly-free date. There may be good reasons
    to plant some wheat before the fly-free date, such as planting for pasture or
    time pressures from having considerable acreage to plant. But stand
    establishment and ultimate grain yields are usually best when wheat is planted
    after the fly-free date and before the deadlines set by crop insurance. Planting
    more than three weeks after the fly-free date can be risky. Late-planted wheat
    often does not develop an adequate root system before winter, and forms fewer
    productive fall tillers. When planting late, seeding rates should be increased
    by 25% to 50% (up to a maximum of 120 pounds per acre) to help ensure an
    adequate stand and compensate for the lack of tillering.
  • Adequate soil fertility. In general, producers should apply at
    least part of their nitrogen before or at planting time to get the plants off
    to a strong start. Nitrogen rates of 20 to 30 pounds can help with fall establishment
    and tillering. If the soil is low or very low in phosphorus or potassium, these
    nutrients should be applied at planting time as well so that the plants benefit
    early in their development. Starter phosphorus with the seed or band-applied
    close to the seed can also help with fall early growth and establishment,
    particularly in low-testing soils. Low soil pH can be a concern particularly
    early in the season when root systems are mostly near the surface, which is
    often an area of lower pH. Soil tests will determine the need for pH
    adjustment and the potential for aluminum toxicity. Variety selection and
    phosphorus application with the seed are potential management strategies for
    low pH and aluminum toxicity issues if it is too late to apply lime before
  • Row-crop stubble planting adjustments. When planting wheat into grain sorghum stubble, producers will need an extra 30 pounds of N per acre over their normal N rate. Also, it is important to make sure the
    sorghum is dead before planting wheat. When planting wheat into soybean
    stubble, producers should not reduce their N rates since the N credit from
    soybeans doesn’t take effect until the following spring. If the wheat is being
    planted no-till after row-crop harvest, N rates should be increased by 20 pounds of N per acre over the normal N rate. Seeding rates should be increased when
    planting wheat late after row-crop harvest. It’s best to use a seeding rate of
    90 to 120 pounds per acre in central and eastern Kansas, and 75 to 100 pounds per
    acre in western Kansas. When planting more than three weeks after the Hessian
    fly-free date, producers should use a seeding rate of 120 pounds per acre.
  • Potential disease issues. Watch out for potential disease issues when planting into corn
    residue. The risk of some diseases may be higher when wheat is planted into
    fields with large amounts of corn residue left on the soil surface. Fusarium
    head blight (scab) of wheat, for example, is caused by a fungus that is known
    to cause stalk rot in corn. 
  • Use of a seed treatment.

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