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Wheat Planting 2018: Run It or Not?

Heavy rain forecast could slow down wheat planting progress.

An unusual early fall weather system may stall wheat planting for the time being – causing many wheat producers to wonder: Should we plant and beat the rain, or do we wait until the rain passes?

The website WeatherWatchers.com estimates 7 to 8 inches of rain could fall on isolated areas of eastern Kansas and Oklahoma, with more than 5 inches predicted throughout much of the surrounding areas, including Kansas and Missouri.

That presents a dilemma for wheat growers, many of whom are in the middle of planting winter wheat. To plant, or not to plant?

“There are at least 15 schools of thought on this,” says Jim Shroyer, retired Extension wheat specialist at Kansas State University. “I’ll narrow it down to a couple. First, what is the forecast after this round of rain? Second, what kind of drill do you have.”

First things first. Let’s say you plant down to 2 inches of moisture. A hard rain may lead soil to crust over and cause erratic emergence if it happens to turn off dry afterward. However, if it does turn dry – and this rain event doesn't evolve as forecasted – waiting a few days may not cause much harm.

On the other hand, if it rains and stays wet, delayed planting could reduce yield potential. Research at Kansas State University shows that wheat planted after October 25 in Hutchinson, Kansas, has reduced yields compared with wheat planted before that date. If planting is pushed into November, yield can decline 40% to 50%, all other things being equal. If wheat farmers get socked into a soggy spell, wet, saturated soils could affect seed quality. Therefore, it may be a good practice to add a fungicide treatment to wheat seed if it hasn’t been applied already. Also, seed population should be increased to compensate for reduced tiller loss, Shroyer says.

“If I had to err, I’d err on planting now. If worse comes to worst, you can always replant,” Shroyer explains. “Seed is cheap compared to what I think you would lose in yield if you wait a few weeks to plant.”

Hoe drill vs. disk drill

The seeding equipment used to plant wheat is another consideration, Shroyer adds.

If moisture is adequate, use a disk drill, if possible. A hoe drill is capable of reaching 2 to 4 inches deep. That, coupled with lots of rain, could flatten out those fields and cause seed to be too deep to emerge.

Err on the side of caution

Forecasts can be wrong, although the weather models for heavy rain are nearly unanimous. Shroyer says it’s better to be safe than sorry.

“It’s one of those situations goes either way, you have the potential to not be correct,” he says. “If you do plant now and it doesn’t come up, you can plant again. But you can’t go the other direction.”

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