Wheat at $5 for next summer delivery is tempting, especially in areas where you can double-crop soybeans. Chris Hurt, Purdue University ag economists says it could be one of the most attractive rotations in terms of profitability next year, assuming you can lock in relatively high prices, and that you don't have irrigation that might give you a yield boost in corn big enough to offset the profitability attainable through a successful wheat/doublecrop soybean rotation.
Recently, we asked Chuck Mansfield, wheat Extension specialist, based at Vincennes University, to update basic steps for establishing a successful wheat crop. After all, wheat at $5 per acre still may not be profitable if you give up 20 bushels per acre by making basic errors in getting the crop established and cared for properly.
Here are his suggestions.
Hold off on planting date until fly-free date- His ideal window is fly-free date to two weeks after it. "It's not so much the Hessian fly we're worried about," Mansfield says. "It's a great guideline for protecting against barley yellow dwarf, which is spread by aphids. It's also a good time to get the right amount of growth for fall. If there is too much or too little growth, you can create problems. It's not foolproof, but it's a good indicator." The fly-free date varies progressively from Sept 22 in northern Indiana to Oct 9 in southwestern Indiana. Planting during this ideal window can also help reduce the chances for take-all, especially on sandy soils.
Pick right variety- There are varieties with better resistance to key diseases than others, including head scab, out there today. Ask your seedsman, he says. Also, ask about winter hardiness. Occasionally, varieties sneak further north than they should, and look good in yield trials if winter is not severe. "Last winter caught some off guard here, especially with the very warm March followed by the cold April," Mansfield says. So winter hardiness is not just ability to withstand absolute low temperatures, but how well the variety can take variation in temperature over a short time.
Planting depth- Shoot for 1 inch depth, with 0.75 to 1.5 inches being acceptable, he says. "I prefer seeding with a drill rather than broadcasting, because you just can't control the depth very well on seeding and disking in," he says.
Good seedbed- You need good seed-to-soil contact, Mansfield emphasizes. "It still works after corn stalks either no-till, or with a disking, then drilling into it." Head scab is sometimes considered more of a risk in no-till wheat after corn, since the Gibberella organism can transfer to an alternate host, wheat, and produce head scab. "But there's so much corn out there this year and it's a wind-blown fungus, so I'm not sure that's a very legitimate reason for not no-tilling after corn," he says.
Seeding rate- Shoot for 1.3 to 1.5 million plants per acre. That means seeding about 1.7 million seeds per acre. Pounds per acre will depend upon seed size, and can vary all the way from 90 to 100 pound per acre for a small-seeded variety to 140 pounds per variety for a large-seeded wheat. Check with your seedsman and do calculations on numbers before deciding how many pound per ace to plant, he advises.
Fall fertilizer- Mansfield's preference is around 100 to 120 pounds of DAP per acre. That provides 20 or 21 pounds of nitrogen for fall, plus phosphate. Especially in cool, wet conditions, phosphorus is important in getting wheat seedlings established.