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Wide rows squeeze wheat into rotations

Adding a crop like wheat to the corn/soybean rotation would be a good trick – especially if you could do it without adding new equipment to the machine shed. That's the magic that farmers in several areas are trying to master.

One of those areas is in south-central Nebraska. A few farmers there are planting wheat in 15-inch rows rather than the standard 7- to 8-inch rows so they don't have to own a grain drill. “We plant wheat with our soybean planter,” says Clatonia farmer Randy Huls.

“We like having wheat in our crop rotation. It's good for the soil and also gives us a place to go with our hog manure when corn and soybeans are in the field. But we never grow a lot of acres of wheat and don't want to have money invested in additional seeding equipment, so we plant it in the wide rows,” adds Huls.

Huls plants wheat with a Kinze planter with interplant pusher units on a 15-inch spacing. He uses the 15-row unit to plant soybeans and simply adds a Seed Right disc, along with the soybean plate, to plant wheat.

“There are several farmers around here doing it,” says Jeff Miller, sales manager with Miller Sales, the Kinze dealer in Clatonia. “We've provided the wheat plates to those who have Kinze planters, and we do custom planting for some of those who don't own Kinze.”

Metering Small Wheat Seed

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The Seed Right disc is a filler plate to prevent small-seeded wheat from leaking by the soybean plate in each planter row unit. The disc was developed seven years ago by Convoy, Ohio, farmer Larry Hak.

“We've probably sold 8,000 of them. But interest is increasing because we sold half of those last year alone. In addition to producers wanting to plant wheat, there's also interest from those wanting to plant radishes and turnips as cover crops. A planter does a better job than a drill at metering and planting these small-seeded crops,” says Hak.

The discs sell for $24.95 each and only fit Kinze planter units. Another developer is known to be working on a design to fit John Deere's metering system, however.

Scranton, Kansas, farmer Earl Thompson has compared yields on his 15-inch wheat with the traditional 8-inch rows. “In 2008, we did three side-by-side tests and found little difference. The drilled wheat was better in two fields and the planted wheat was better in one. Overall, the wide-row wheat averaged 44 bushels per acre and the traditional 8-inch row wheat averaged 44.6 bushels.

“We like wheat in our crop rotation because the residue helps in our no-till program,” says Thompson. “But we don't grow enough of it to justify investing in a no-till drill. So we put the wheat discs in our 16/31-row Kinze planter. The only problem we've had is with seeding rates. In order to get the 1.3 million seeds per acre that we want, we've got to get five to six seeds in each cell of the 60-cell soybean plate. You've got to drive slow – 5 mph or less – to fill each cell.”

Thompson says filling individual seed boxes with wheat seed is also a hassle. “We've recently traded our Kinze for a John Deere planter with a central seed hopper, but we're looking for a way to plant wheat with it.”

Researchers Find Advantages

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University agronomists have also turned some attention to wide-row wheat. “We've got many farmers interested in using soybean planters to plant wheat in 15-inch rows instead of the traditional 7.5 inches,” says University of Kentucky researcher Jim Herbek. “In tests at two locations last year, we found an average loss of about 5% for the wide rows in 90- to 100-bushel wheat. We think a yield loss of up to 10% is acceptable.”

At the University of Illinois, a team of researchers is finding that having wheat in the crop rotation is helping the yield of the corn and soybean crops that follow.

A recent three-year summary of the results showed that corn grown in a three-crop rotation (soybean/wheat/corn) yielded 4% more than corn in a corn/soybean rotation. Corn in a wheat/soybean/corn rotation produced 6% higher yields. Meanwhile, soybeans in both three-crop rotations yielded 4% more than soybeans in the corn/soybean rotation.

“While the income from winter wheat in Illinois is usually less than the income from corn or soybeans, higher corn and soybean yields in a three-crop rotation have produced net returns equal to or slightly greater than from the corn/soybean rotation,” says project director Emerson Nafziger. “Additional advantages of having wheat in the rotation include spreading field operations, reduced soil erosion (due to a winter cover), and slightly greater income stability (because wheat responds differently to weather conditions). The ability to double-crop soybeans following wheat harvest in southern Corn Belt locations increases the income potential when adding wheat to the rotation.”

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