WOOSTER, Ohio - Prolonged heavy rains during winter wheat planting have resulted in severe stand establishment problems throughout parts of Ohio, which may affect overall yields come next season's harvest.
Pat Lipps, an Ohio State University plant pathologist for the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC), said saturated soils created ideal conditions for fungi to attack and kill germinating seeds, heavily damaging wheat fields or, in some cases, wiping out entire fields.
"We received very heavy rains during the second and third weeks in October, which was right after the major acreage of wheat was planted. Some parts of the state received six to eight inches of rain during a one-week period," said Lipps. "When you get saturated soils from a deluge of rain like that, it's very difficult for any crop to germinate and become established."
Northwest Ohio has been hardest hit with many farmers having to replant five to six weeks beyond the Hessian fly free date or being forced to plant other crops.
"I can say that in the 20 something years that I've been here, it's the worst looking wheat crop I've seen in terms of stand establishment. I've never seen anything this severe or this widespread," said Lipps. "We like our wheat to be planted on time so that it produces three to four tillers before winter dormancy, and our evaluations of fields so far indicate that we are lucky to have one or maybe two tillers. That's about half of what we need to produce the 80-90 bushel yields we are used to."
Lipps said that the poor germination problems and subsequent late replanting of many fields are raising concerns whether the crop will survive through winter and produce an economically viable crop next spring.
"Research has shown that fields planted right after the Hessian fly safe date perform much better than late planted fields. Some farmers are still trying to plant right now, which is just way too late to expect to produce a viable crop next year," said Lipps. "The thing that concerns us is the area hardest hit contains the major wheat growing counties in the state, producing more acreage of winter wheat than any of the other counties in Ohio."
Counties in Northwest Ohio affected by wheat stand establishment problems include Putnam, Paulding, Van Wert, Allen, Hancock, Henry, Defiance, Wood, and parts of Mercer, Shelby and Auglaize. Ohio ranks seventh overall among all winter wheat-producing states in the United States and produces some of the highest quality soft red winter wheat sought after by millers and bakers.
Though little can be done now to remedy the situation, Lipps recommends that farmers assess their fields for yield potential next spring by counting the number of plants per square foot. "If farmers determine they have 15 plants or more per square foot, they can probably save those fields and go for a near normal yield," he said. "The economics of the situation, however, might drive some farmers to plant soybeans or corn depending on what they'll see next spring."