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Planting the 2015 Winter Wheat Crop

The initial goal of planting winter wheat should be to seed on a timely basis and in a way that leads to even and uniform stand of seedlings. When this is achieved, top grain yields can often be realized.

Field preparations
The chance of achieving a consistent stand is greatly improved by insuring residue from the previous crop is spread uniformly. Particularly for no-till operations, bunched-up residue is the most common threat to consistency in wheat stands. In some cases, the coulters are unable to cut through the thick residue or the emerging wheat simply rots below the layers of plant material. Adding weight to the drill may help in penetrating crop residue (or hard soil). In some cases, the only alternative is to use tillage to help disburse and bury the residue. Tillage or a nonselective should be used to insure a weed-free start to the crop.

Planting date
While the Hessian fly no longer poses a significant threat to wheat in Michigan, the Hessian fly-free-date is still a useful reference relative to projecting wheat’s performance and disease development (see table at the end of this article for county fly-free dates). Although the best date to plant wheat varies from year to year, the date is likely to fall within the first two weeks following the area’s fly-free-date. This timing helps insure that seedlings have sufficient time to develop a strong root system and initiate multiple tillers before winter dormancy.

Where planting is delayed a few weeks beyond the fly-free- date, the crop’s yield potential tends to decline at least one bushel for each additional day of delay. When wheat is planted before or within a few days following of the fly-free date, growers should consider lowering their seeding rate; decreasing or eliminating nitrogen fertilizer at planting-time; and monitor the seedlings for aphids.

Seeding depth
Attaining a consistent depth, and thus even emergence, is often more critical than fine-tuning actual seeding depth. Usually, a planting depth of 1 to 1.5 inches is sufficient. Shallower plantings may emerge more quickly, whereas more deeply placed seed has the advantage of additional protection against winter stresses as was seen this past year. An adjustment should be made where a field is exceptionally dry. In this case, the seed should be placed as deep as necessary to find moisture.

Planting rate
Michigan State University Extension’s recommendation is to plant between 1.4 and 2.2 million seeds per acre. Seeding rates on the lower end of the range should be reserved for fields being planted within a couple weeks of the fly-free-date. Higher rates at this time are discouraged as overly thick stands may encourage lodging. As the planting season goes on, the seeding rates should become progressively higher. If planting continues into the second half of October, the seed rate should be increased to at least 2.2 million per acre. The seeding rates should also be adjusted upward when seed is of questionable quality.

Fall fertilization
Generally, the current recommendation is for wheat to receive between 10 and 25 pounds of fertilizer nitrogen at planting. However, growers often find they need little or any extra nitrogen at planting especially where the seeding is made relatively early in the fall and where there is plenty of soil nitrogen left by the previous crop. All phosphorus and potash should be applied in the fall, with rates determined by soil test levels. In general, soils having medium test levels of phosphorus (25-40 ppm) require approximately 50 pounds per acre of phosphate. For silt loam soils testing medium for potassium (75-100 ppm), approximately 60 pounds per acre of potash may be sufficient.

Source: Michigan State University

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