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Tips to get up a late-planted wheat crop

The generally accelerated timeframe for most cropping activities this year has turned from largely a blessing to a curse for wheat farmers who jumped on planting the 2013 crop earlier than normal.

The drought conditions that have gripped the nation's center much of this year haven't eased much in the wheat belt recently, though that hasn't slowed wheat farmers with a crop to get planted. But now, it's coming back to bite those who worked ahead and planted earlier than normal. As a result of not just the drought but other factors, many farmers are having to replant their crop, something that's not the easiest job in the world when things are this dry, says University of Nebraska Extension crops specialist Robert Klein.

For whatever the reason, it adds up to a lot of acres that will be planted later than the optimal timeframe.

"This year wheat planting may have been delayed, or replanting may be necessary due to grasshopper feeding or seed that wasn't placed at the proper seeding depth due to dry hard soils," he says. "Winter wheat seeded late can out yield winter wheat seeded earlier, especially when compared with wheat planted much before the suggested dates. This yield increase can be attributed to reduced disease and insect problems and the use of extra soil water in the fall."

So, if you're planting late or having to replant wheat you've already sown but that hasn't responded because of the drought, Klein offers a 4-pronged approach:

  1. Use narrow row spacing. "When seeding after the recommended date, narrow row spacings of 5-8 inches are preferred over wider spacings of 10-15 inches. If you use a wider spacing, such as with a 15-inch seeder, consider seeding twice, with the second pass at a slight angel to the first," he says. "Use one-half the seeding rate each time. This will only work with disc drills; hoe drills move soil and would bury much of the seed from the first pass."
  2. Increase seeding rate. For each week beyond the normal planting window, Klein advises adding 10 to 15 pounds of seed to the total seeding rate, up to 120 pounds/acre. "For irrigated wheat the recommended seeding rate is 90 lb (1,350,000 seeds) per acre if planted at the suggested seeding date. Increase the seeding rate 15 to 20 lb (225,000-300,000 seeds) per acre for every week after the suggested seeding date to a maximum of 180 lb (2,700,000 seeds) per acre," he says. "Also, when no-tilling into row crop stubble, seeding rates are usually increased by as much as 50% even when seeded during the suggested seeding dates. When seeding occurs more than one week after the suggested seeding date, the seeding rate should be 90 to 120 lb (1,350,000-1,800,000 seeds) per acre for rainfed. With irrigated wheat, increase the seeding rate the same up to the maximum listed earlier."
  3. Add a phosphorus application. Try applying 20 pounds of phosphorus/acre where soil tests call for none, boosting rates by 20% for later-planted wheat. "The normal superphosphates and ammonium phosphates generally have a negligible effect on wheat stands because of the low salt content of phosphorus fertilizers compared to nitrogen fertilizer, the low concentration associated with narrow rows (5-12 inches), and the generally high rates of seed used," Klein says. "The seeding mechanism for applying phosphorus fertilizer with the seed is not critical unless the producer applies additional nitrogen at the same time."
  4. Use certified, treated seed. "The seed treatments need to thoroughly coat the seeds to give good results and should be applied with quality seed-treating equipment," Klein says.
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