Wheat Down, But Not Out

January 31, 2007

WOOSTER, Ohio -- The worst 2006 harvest conditions seen in four decades have left a big question mark on the outcome of Ohio's wheat, but Ohio State University Extension agronomic crop specialists insist on not counting the crop out just yet.

Late planting, a wet fall, a warm winter -- you name it, everything but ideal environmental conditions has kept wheat from a normal growing season. Specialists agree that the crop is not in good shape, but they also feel it will emerge this spring better than anticipated and produce fairly decent yields.

"The wheat was planted late in some cases, wasn't planted in other cases, and where the crop was planted, we got too much rain and poor soil conditions. Growers have been concerned as to whether or not they will have a wheat crop, whether they will have a good crop, and whether they should tear it up and just plant corn," said Pierce Paul, an Ohio State plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center. "For us researchers, it's hard to say today to tear up the wheat crop and plant corn. We know from experience over the years that wheat has a remarkable ability to recover from the weirdest and the strangest of situations, because it's a crop that is adaptive to dealing with these kinds of weather conditions."

One concern was the late harvest of soybeans, which interfered with wheat planting. Wheat was either planted late or not planted at all. In addition, late planting and poor soil conditions in some fields have led to poor tiller development and stand establishment. In some instances, bare areas remain in fields where the seeds never germinated.

"Growers are asking what they can do with those patchy areas. It just might be that some of the wheat thought lost will recover during green-up this spring," said Paul, who also holds an OSU Extension appointment. "In addition, relatively warm conditions during the early part of the winter did contribute to tiller development."

One thing specialists are not recommending is planting spring wheat to fill those bald spots.

"Ohio's growing conditions are just not suited for spring wheat production. Also, spring wheat tends to yield less than soft red winter wheat -- as much as 60 percent less," said Paul. "Additionally, there is little to no market in Ohio for the available spring wheat varieties. Our market is for soft winter wheat."

And growers thinking about planting winter wheat early next spring to fill in patchy areas in their fields should reconsider. Winter wheat will not joint and produce a stalk and head, grain or straw, unless it is exposed to at least 15 days of cold temperatures after germination. Therefore, due to Ohio's environmental conditions, wheat planted in the spring will not produce a crop.

Another concern plaguing growers was the unseasonably warm temperatures at the start of winter, and whether the plants received enough cold days to produce a crop.

"Winter wheat needs a period of cold temperatures (vernalization period) in order to produce a crop -- to give rise to a head. If winter wheat does not receive these conditions, it's not going to produce a crop. It'll be just straw," said Paul. "The good news is that we looked at the soil and air temperatures across Ohio between October and January and we feel the crop has enough cold days that it will produce a crop next spring without any problems."

Additional concerns surround the survivability of the some of the wheat crop that began greening up in January during a spate of warm temperatures. Wheat in Ohio generally does not begin to green up until early in the spring.

"We had some warm days in December and early January and now we have cold weather. The transition from warm to colder days has been gradual enough that it shouldn't hurt the wheat crop," said Paul. "What we worry about is a cold snap and that hasn't happened."

Paul said that the wheat crop will be evaluated again in the spring to help growers make a more accurate assessment on the condition of their wheat fields.

"For now, it's just a matter of waiting," said Paul.

For more information on Ohio's wheat crop and the recommendations from Ohio State plant pathologists, entomologists, soil fertility specialists and agronomists, visit the OSU Agronomic Crops Team Web site at http://agcrops.osu.edu.

Author(s): 
Candace Pollock
Source(s): 
Pierce Paul