Seeding Forages into Wheat Stubble

Seeding Forages into Wheat Stubble

June 22, 2015

Wheat stubble can be an excellent seedbed to plant forages into using no-till.  It may take some advance preparation, though, to be successful.

UNL trials of forages planted into wheat stubble.
Figure 1. Summer annual forages can be successfully planted into wheat stubble, as in this UNL trial being conducted in irrigated wheat stubble in western Nebraska.  (Photo by Jerry Volesky)

Advantages of Forage Cover Crops. No-till planting of alfalfa, turnips, summer annual grasses, or other cover crops into wheat stubble has many advantages:

  • soil moisture is conserved,
  • erosion is reduced,
  • weed seeds remain buried, and
  • tillage expenses are eliminated. 

But despite these advantages, many growers still experience spotty stands.

To help ensure success when planting into wheat stubble, take a few extra steps. 

  1. Manage Residue. One of the biggest challenges is heavy residue, which may limit proper drill operation and seed placement or even partly smother new seedlings.  Residue can be especially troublesome right behind the combine, even when using a good straw chopper.  The best way to minimize this problem is to bale the straw, remove some excess residue, and use a well-functioning drill.
     
  2. Control Weeds. Weeds can be another challege, either annual weeds that develop after wheat is combined or volunteer wheat that sprouts later in the summer.  Control weeds prior to planting with herbicides like glyphosate and be ready with post-emergence herbicides like Select or Poast Plus, when appropriate, for latter emerging weeds or volunteer wheat.
     
  3. Adjust Planting.  Finally, consider cross- or double-drilling.  Plant one-half of the seed while driving one direction, then plant the other half driving across the rows.  This helps fill in gaps, develop canopy earlier, improve weed control, and may help you plant the right amount of seed if you sometimes end up running out or have much seed left over.

Wheat stubble makes a good seedbed.  Make it even better with a few management adjustments.

Bruce Anderson
Extension Forage Specialist