When Planting Wheat, Don't Put Eggs in One Basket

September 5, 2006

WOOSTER, Ohio -- Growers making wheat planting preparations for next season should spread their choices over varieties that provide good yields, disease resistance, stalk quality and winter hardiness rather than relying only on achieving maximum yields through the use of extra inputs.

Pierce Paul, an Ohio State University plant pathologist with the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center, said that given Ohio's environmental conditions, it's often not economically profitable to grow varieties solely for maximum yield potentials.

"It's understandable that growers focus their attention on achieving high yields, but achieving those high yields is not always consistent with profitable wheat production," said Paul, who also holds a partial Ohio State University Extension appointment. "Maximum yield potential is rarely ever reached in Ohio, mainly because of environmental conditions and disease problems, both of which contribute to yield reduction."

Instead, Paul recommends growers take what is commonly referred to as a defensive approach to managing wheat. That is, choose varieties that exhibit a combination of such characteristics as high yield potential, disease resistance, good standability, good winter hardiness, and high test weight, and follow recommended seeding rates, planting date, and nitrogen application rates. The newly published 2006 OSU Extension Ohio Wheat Performance Test is intended to aid growers in choosing the best varieties for their region and planting conditions. Results of the test, which analyzed 58 soft red winter wheat varieties and one soft white winter wheat variety in five Ohio locations, can be found at http://agcrops.osu.edu/wheat.

"The idea is to get growers to think about choosing varieties suitable to their area that exhibit a wide variety of characteristics," said Paul. "When growers start thinking about maximum yield only, 100 bushels per acre or more, then high input costs with nitrogen applications and higher seeding rates come into play. And, over time, that's just not economically realistic with the growing conditions in Ohio."

Here are some helpful tips to get growers ready for planting wheat:

• Select high-yielding varieties with good test weight, straw strength and disease resistance. Since no single variety is equally resistant to all diseases, select those that are resistant to the disease most damaging and common in a grower's region of the state. When choosing between varieties with moderate resistance to wheat scab and those with resistance to foliar diseases, give first preference to wheat scab resistance. In any given year, scab may result in more yield and quality losses that any other disease.

• Plant seeds that have been properly cleaned to remove shriveled kernels, and treat all seeds with a fungicide to control soil- and seed-borne diseases.

• Plant after the Hessian Fly-safe date to avoid insect and disease problems. This date varies between Sept. 22 for northern counties to Oct. 5 for the southern counties.

• Plant seeds at a rate of 1.2 to 1.6 million seeds per acre. For drills with 7.5 inch row spacing, this is about 18 to 24 seeds per foot of row with normal sized seed. Plant seed 1.5 inches deep and make sure planting depth is uniform across the field.

• Apply 20 to 30 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre at planting to promote fall tiller development. Wheat also requires at least 45 parts per million of available phosphorus per acre in the soil to produce really good grain yields.

To learn more about Ohio's wheat crop and planting preparations, log on to http://agcrops.osu.edu.

Candace Pollock
Pierce Paul