Wheat Planting Practices for Eastern Nebraska

Figure 1. No-till planted winter wheat emerging after soybeans in eastern Nebraska.
Figure 1. No-till planted winter wheat emerging after soybeans in eastern Nebraska.

Wheat Planting Practices for Eastern Nebraska August 31, 2017

While many growers are thinking of harvest, some are thinking about planting. There are many reasons why growers have been planting winter wheat in eastern Nebraska and why some growers are considering planting it for the first time this fall. (See Why Grow Winter Wheat in Eastern Nebraska.) With wheat planting approaching, let’s review how to get your wheat crop off to a great start this fall with seven key steps.

Based on information from farmers, agronomists, and researchers, consider these steps when drilling winter wheat in eastern Nebraska:

  1. Pick your variety based on the newest data, not just on what variety is easy to get.
  2. Go with no-till drilling after soybeans
  3. Use certified and fungicide-treated seed
  4. Drill seeds per acre, not pounds per acre
  5. Increase seeding rates and drill narrow through October
  6. Use correct drilling depth and in-furrow starter fertilizer to help achieve maximum yields
  7. Start clean and eliminate volunteer wheat in nearby fields

1. Select Seed Based on Multi-Year Trials

These are Not Your Grandfather’s Winter Wheat Varieties

Winter wheat variety selection is one of the most critical management steps each season. The average yield difference between 2016 varieties planted in eastern Nebraska and the yield performance differences in University of Nebraska Variety Trials over the last three years is 17 bushels per acre (comparing SY Wolf and Overland). Current recommended varieties consistently outperform older yet still planted varieties like Overland. The fall 2017 recommended varieties based on three years of yield data and multiple locations in eastern Nebraska are:

  1. SY Wolf
  2. HG Freeman
  3. WB Cedar
  4. HG Ruth

Additional promising varieties for fall 2017, based on two years of yield data and multiple locations in eastern Nebraska, are:

  1. WB Grainfield
  2. Zenda
  3. WB4721
  4. WB4303

Unfortunately not all varieties planted in the region are submitted and tested in eastern Nebraska variety trials (e.g., SY Monument and Sunrise). Within the eight recommended and promising varieties, it is important to consider other genetic traits such as standability, disease resistance, maturity, etc. This kind of information can be found in the Nebraska Extension 2017 Fall Seed Guide. You can also read good summaries in CropWatch stories by Teshome Regassa on the 2017 Nebraska Winter Wheat Variety Testing and Overall Results and by Stephen Baenziger in Top Performers by Region in 2017 Wheat Trials.

2. No-till Plant After Soybeans

Even though the last two winters have been fairly mild, harsh colder winters in previous decades in Nebraska have led to winterkill. Between varieties selected for winter hardiness and no-till drilling, winterkill is less common. Our recommendation is to choose recommended varieties that have good winter hardiness and no-till drill winter wheat into soybean stubble.

3. Use Certified and Fungicide-Treated Seed

Drilling certified seed ensures that you are buying the variety you want along with getting quality seed (also read Making the Case for Certified Wheat Seed). The certified seed tag also includes critical information you need to drill at the recommended seeding rates. You can learn How to Read a Certified Analysis Seed Tag in a previous CropWatch article. You can find a list of certified seed sources in the 2017-2018 Nebraska Crop Improvement Association Seed Book. In an article on Risk Factors and Management Recommendations for Wheat Disease in Nebraska University of Nebraska-Lincoln Wheat Plant Pathologist Stephen Wegulo strongly recommends using fungicide-treated seed to reduce losses caused by seed-transmitted (common bunt, loose smut, scab, black point) and soilborne fungal disease (Rhizoctonia and Pythium root rots, common root rot, and Fusarium root and crown rots).

4. Drill Seeds per Acre

Would you be happy if you wanted to plant your corn at 30,000 seeds per acre and actually planted either 38,000 or 21,000 seeds per acre instead? All too often in winter wheat this mistake happens by not making adjustments during planting for seed weight (12,000 to 20,000), germination, and purity of the wheat seed. All of these important values are located on the certified analysis seed tag. You can use the Excel-based calculator to determine the correct pounds or bushels per acre.

Inforgraphic on winter wheat tips

5. Increase Seeding Rates and Drill Narrow through October

The current recommendations is to increase the seeding rate by 150,000 seeds/acre each week planting is delayed after the recommended planting dates, which ranges from Sept 15 for the northeast to October 1 in far southeast Nebraska. (See NebGuide: Seeding Rates for Winter Wheat in Nebraska and CW article, Wheat Seeding Delay? Here's How to Compensate.) The range of optimum seeding rates for rainfed wheat in eastern Nebraska is 900,000 to 1,350,000 seeds per acre at the recommended planting date with a maximum suggested seeding rate of 1,800,000 with late planting. Assuming growers drill wheat at 50% completion of soybean harvest, which is roughly October 10 over the last three years in Nebraska, growers need to start at seeding rates of 1,200,000 to 1,500,000. This can mean 80 to 120 pounds of seed per acre. You can use this Excel-based Winter Wheat Seeding Rate Calculator to determine the recommended seeding rate for October for eastern Nebraska. Additionally, narrower drill rows of 6 to 8 inches can help compensate for later planting. Research in eastern Kansas during 2011 and 2012 showed a yield loss of 17.4 bu/acre when planting wheat in 15-inch rows versus 7.5-inch drilled rows (Shoup, 2014).

Assuming no changes from last year by USDA-RMA, growers have until either October 10 (some northeast counties) or October 15 (most of eastern Nebraska) to plant winter wheat for 100% crop insurance coverage with late planting period beginning the day after the final planting date and ending 15 days after the final planting dates. See last year’s final planting dates.

6. Fine-Tune Planting Depth and Add Starter Fertilizer

Drill wheat at 1.0 to 1.5 inches deep regardless of moisture conditions. Drilling winter wheat seed too deep or too shallow can decrease early vigor, winter hardiness, and your final stand. Planting less than 1 inch or more than 2 inches deep can create problems. It’s important that you get out of the tractor and check that you are planting 1.0 to 1.5 inches deep, especially as soil moisture conditions change. Keep drill speeds moderate at 4-5 mph. Faster speeds will bounce drill units and make the stand uneven. Winter wheat varieties do differ in the coleoptile length, but none need to be planted outside the recommended planting depth of 1.0-1.5 inches.

Another way to increase winter hardiness and fall tillering is by adding starter phosphorus and nitrogen fertilizer in-furrow at safe rates. Read more about phosphorus use in an article by Dorivar Ruiz Diaz from Kansas State University (Starter fertilizers for wheat can pay if used correctly) and in Fertilizer Management for Winter Wheat in CropWatch.

7. Start Clean

Make sure any volunteer wheat for harvested fields or seeded waterways within a quarter mile is dead for at least two weeks before planting to avoid having the wheat curl mite infect the field with wheat streak mosaic virus. Learn more about wheat streak mosaic virus in a previous article, Wheat Disease Update: Wheat Streak Mosaic. If you are also seeding cover crops, make sure the drill is clean of any cover crop seed, especially cereal rye that would become feral rye in your wheat field.

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