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Tips for Planting Winter Wheat

University of Minnesota Extension, Stearns County News
August 27, 2014         
University of Minnesota Extension
Stearns, Benton & Morrison Counties

Tips for Planting Winter Wheat
By Dan Martens, University of Minnesota Extension

FOLEY, Minn. (08/22/14) — The following information is based largely on information provided be Minnesota Extension small grain specialist Jochum Wiersma and communications specialist Phyllis Bongard.

With September just around the corner, we are approaching the optimum time for planting winter wheat in Minnesota. The optimum planting date windows are between September 1st and the 15th in the area north of I-94, between September 10th and the 30th south of I-94, and between September 20th and October 10th in the part of the state south of I-90.

Performance of winter grains the next year can be hurt if planted too early or too late. There’s a preferred amount of growth you’d like to see in the fall, not too much, not too little. In recent research, the early planted treatments have been more productive than those planted later than the optimal dates, though the difference was not always large, depending on the year and the variety grown. Getting some growth helps to hold some snow for insulation, if there is snow to hold.

Below are key points to establish winter wheat successfully and give it the best chances to survive Minnesota's winter.

Plant winter-hardy, adapted varieties - Use a winter hardy variety, especially if you are not planting into residue or you are seeding past the optimum planting window. Late planted seedlings will be small as winter approaches and will be more prone to winter injury, particularly if there is little snow cover. A winter hardy variety will help reduce the risk of injury and be more productive when conditions are conducive to winter injury. Do a website search for “Minnesota Extension winter wheat varieties” or call the Extension office for more information.

Plant winter wheat into standing stubble - Survival of winter wheat during the winter is enhanced when it is covered with snow during the coldest months of the year. Standing crop residues can effectively retain snow and help insulate the crop during the winter. Abandoned stands of alfalfa that have been killed with glyphosate can work well. Even standing soybean stubble is capable of trapping some snow and reducing winterkill. Planting winter wheat into wheat stubble is not ideal due to the increased risk from residue-borne diseases. However, if disease management is planned, planting into wheat stubble is better than seeding into a clean tilled field, maybe depending on fall growth potential.

Calculate the correct seeding rate – The MN Extension Variety Trial publication suggests 75+ pounds per acre. An optimum stand for winter wheat in the spring is 23 to 25 plants/ft2 (900,000 - 1,000,000 plants per acre). At 14,500 seeds per pound, that’s 62 to 69 pounds per acre. Calculate a seeding rate based on known seeds per pound. A poor seedbed and planting past the optimum window will mean a higher percent stand loss and/or more winterkill. If planting is delayed or conditions exist that may delay germination and emergence, the seeding rate can be increased by about 150,000 to 200,000 seeds per acre. There is no advantage to seeding more than 1.8 million seeds per acre.

Apply phosphorus at time of planting - Phosphorus (P) fertilization can help winter hardiness, especially if soil tests for P are low. Phosphorus helps develop strong roots and crown tissue overwinter. The rate of P applied with the seed should be limited by the amount of nitrogen (N) in the fertilizer, since excessive N prior to freeze-up can reduce winter survival. In narrow rows, nitrogen should not exceed 15 pounds per acre with the seed, particularly if conditions are dry. I’d have to wonder how that plays out then with land where lots of manure has been applied.

Plant 1 to 1.5 inches deep - Adequate moisture for establishing winter wheat is often a concern as the soil profile is usually depleted of moisture in the fall. If there is little or no moisture in the soil's surface, planting shallow (1 to 1.5 inches deep) and waiting for rain is recommended. Furthermore, these relatively shallow planting depths allow for faster emergence when temperatures are rapidly declining.

Avoid the "green bridge" - Avoid fall infections of Wheat Streak Mosaic virus, Barley Yellow Dwarf virus, Hessian Fly, and/or tan spot by not planting too early and ensuring the removal of any volunteer wheat and grassy weeds at least two weeks prior to planting.

Choose the correct planting date – Noted above.

Consider treating seed with fungicides and possibly an insecticide - If the seed is going to lay in the soil for an extended period of time or if conditions favor disease development, a fungicide applied to the seed will help protect it. An insecticide may be beneficial if wireworms are likely to be present.

Rye is another crop that can be considered for farmers who want straw and then to make the best use of feeding or selling the grain. For better grain yields, winter rye would be planted August 15 to September 10 in northern MN; and September 5 to 30 in southern Minnesota. We’re probably in the middle of that in this area. Rye can be planted 2 to 8 weeks earlier if you’re looking for a fall grazing or hay crop. Rye has less risk for winter injury. Plant ergot free seed. Triticale is a cross of wheat and rye.


Daniel Martens
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(320) 968-5077
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