Managing Poor Wheat Stands in the Nebraska Panhandle
April 25, 2008
Winter wheat stands in some northern Panhandle fields are quite spotty as a result of dry conditions last fall. Winter and early spring moisture does not seem to be resulting in new plant emergence, which suggests that the plants may have germinated last fall or winter and then died. A few of these fields have had severe loss due to wind erosion.
For most of these fields, tearing them up and planting something else is not a viable option because of the dry soil conditions and current grain prices. In most cases, yield loss for the affected field is not likely to be great enough to trigger crop insurance. So what is a grower to do? Doing nothing may result in soil erosion problems or weed development that can complicate harvest.
We do not recommend buying spring wheat seed and using it to fill in the gaps. Spring wheat seed is in short supply and expensive even if you can find it. Also, if spring wheat grain is mixed with winter wheat grain, it is considered a mixed class and will be severely docked at the elevator. We think it's better to seed winter wheat into large gaps to provide some cover to minimize soil erosion and provide some competition with later emerging weeds. This late-seeded wheat will not be competitive with wheat that emerged last fall. Winter wheat now will not be vernalized and will not produce a head until very late in the summer, long after wheat harvest. After harvest this wheat should be killed with tillage or herbicides to prevent the spread of wheat streak mosaic.
To prevent weeds from becoming a major issue in areas without much established wheat, consider applying an herbicide with a long soil residual this spring. Herbicides such as Ally, Amber, Finesse, or Peak will control many yet-to-emerge weeds for several weeks after application and may prevent the need of harvest aid treatments. Be sure to check the label for rotation restrictions if you are not in a winter wheat-fallow rotation.
By seeding winter wheat now for ground cover and using residual herbicides to prevent weeds from getting out of control, these fields can be managed to produce as much wheat as their limited stands will allow.
Fields determined to have a major yield loss as a result of poor stands should be seeded to a cover-producing crop as soon as possible. Be sure to check with your crop insurance agent before destroying any wheat fields.
Extension Dryland Crops Specialist
Extension Educator, Box Butte County