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Why Not Wheat?
It would be easy to limit the acreage you plan to devote to wheat this fall or next spring (or eliminate it from the crop rotation all together), given the crops’ low prices. July 2017 Kansas City Wheat Futures are at $4.78 at this writing. Much better than the 2016 cash prices, but not where farmers need it to be to make wheat profitable.
Before you count wheat out, keep in mind the other attributes of this crop that should be considered.
Break the Cycle
Farmers can use a cereal grain like wheat to break up row-crop rotations, which can minimize disease and insect cycles. More importantly, wheat gives growers a chance to get on top of tough-to-control weeds, like kochia, waterhemp, Palmer amaranth, and marestail. Wheat is planted at a much higher rate to get a dense crop canopy, which can thwart weed emergence in the spring. Plus, growers can use different herbicides on wheat, capitalizing on a much-needed different mode of action, says Rick Runyan, Central Nebraska manager at Servi-Tech. “After wheat harvest is when you can use some high-powered herbicides like gramoxone or 2,4-D to keep weeds at bay,” says Runyan, who advocates consecutive years of wheat before cycling to a summer annual crop. “It’s key to get control of the weeds and to stay on top of them.”
Dwayne Beck, agronomist at the Dakota Lakes Research Farm near Pierre, South Dakota, says this of the benefits of a diverse crop rotation: “We have resistant weeds because farmers believed they didn’t have to worry about crop rotation to keep fields sanitary. Mother Nature is an opportunist.”
In a no-till system, wheat stubble makes a perfect seedbed for corn or grain sorghum. Not only does it catch snow and preserve precipitation in the winter, but also wheat stubble is a high-carbon crop that protects the soil from wind erosion. Don’t discount the opportunities following wheat harvest. Producers can plant a double crop of soybeans, sunflowers, corn, or grain sorghum; plant a cover crop (or mix of cover crops) to boost soil health and to provide winter grazing for a cowherd; or leave idle, letting the soil moisture recharge for the following row crop.
Plus, growers can graze cattle on wheat (a common practice in Texas, Oklahoma, and southern Kansas). Farmers can graze the wheat and remove cattle, thereby, taking the crop to harvest. Or, the crop can be grazed out, destroyed, and the field planted to a spring crop.
‘Hunny’ of a Yield
Wheat farmers know a “hunny” is a wheat yield in excess of 100 bushels per acre. It’s a rarity still in winter wheat country, but in this year’s Kansas Wheat Yield Contest, all three winners (based on east, central, and west regions) earned “hunnys,” with the top yield reaching 121.48 bushels per acre. Alec Horton from Leoti achieved that yield with a new white wheat variety from the Kansas Wheat Alliance. Horton planted 375,000 seeds of the variety ‘Joe’ per acre. The seed was treated with Vibrance Extreme (for disease) and SB4400 (a microbial treatment). The crop was topdressed with 90 pounds of nitrogen this spring, and 3.5 ounces of Rave were applied then. Three fungicide applications were made: 2 ounces of Priaxor at Feekes 5, plus 4 ounces of Monsoon and 6 ounces of Azoxy Star at Feekes 10. Horton also applied 3.84 ounces of the insecticide Ravage at Feekes 10.