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Take caution when 'dusting in' wheat this fall

Most of the state of Kansas is under the worst drought conditions it's seen in years. And, right now's a bad time for that to be happening, with many farmers there starting to look ahead to planting wheat in the coming weeks.

That means most will be planting their 2013 wheat crop in extremely dry soils, something that could, if not handled correctly, slam yield potential for that crop down the road.

Before even turning a wheel on the drill, it's important to get a feel for what Mother Nature's plans are first. If the dry conditions are expected to continue, instinct may tell you to plant a lighter population. That's not the way to go, though, says Kansas State University Extension crop production and wheat specialist Jim Shroyer.

"If it looks like there’s a good chance the dry weather will continue until at least the back end of the optimum range of planting dates, producers should treat the fields as if they were planting later than the optimum time. Rather than cutting back on seeding rates and fertilizer to save money on a lost cause, producers should increase seeding rates, consider using a fungicide seed treatment, and consider using a starter fertilizer," Shroyer says. "The idea is to make sure the wheat gets off to a good start and will have enough heads to have good yield potential, assuming it will eventually rain and the crop will emerge late. Wheat that emerges in November almost always has fewer fall tillers than wheat that emerges in September or October."

Regardless of variables like plant population, there will still be risks to "dusting in" seed wheat, Shroyer says. If it does finally rain shortly after the wheat's been planted, the crusting could make it tough for the young plants to poke through and emerge. In some cases, the seeds can germinate without emerging at all, just below the surface.

One way to avoid this situation is to plant deeper, Shroyer says. Doing so requires you to plant right in the optimal planting window and with the right equipment. And, it's not without risks, either.

"The advantage of this option is that the crop may come up and make a stand during the optimum time in the fall. This would keep the soil from blowing. Also, the ridges created by hoe drills also help keep the soil from blowing," Shroyer says. "Generally speaking, it's best to plant no deeper than 3 inches with most varieties. Under the right conditions, this would result in good stands, assuming the producer uses a high seeding rate and a starter fertilizer, if appropriate. If it remains dry well past the optimum range of planting dates, the producer would then have the option of just keeping the wheat seed in the shed until next fall and planting spring crop next year instead."

Regardless of what you do, don't neglect your crop insurance deadlines, Shroyer adds.

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