Tips for Late Wheat Planting

wheat in farm field


The wet spring weather this year has delayed soybean harvest and stalled wheat and cover crop planting. While late planted wheat may not compete with seedings made in September, late planted October and even early November wheat can often be successful.

Every day that wheat planting is delayed past the ideal planting window of late September and early October, fall tillering decreases and yield slips. The situation is especially concerning in the Midwest, which has seen less wheat planted early this year due to late spring crop plantings and later crop harvest. University research from Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania relate how best to manage late-seeded wheat fields to minimize yield loss and other problems. Here are some of their recommendations.

First, watch your crop rotation. Avoid planting wheat into a corn crop because as grasses, both wheat and corn share many similar diseases. Diseases like Take All, a fusarium species, and head scab - fusarium, cause large yield losses, perhaps as much as 40 bushel of wheat per acre. This can be avoided by planting after a soybean rotation or another broadleaf crop. The risk of head scab is greatly reduced by starting out with a good rotation.

Second, adjust your seeding rate: A late-planted wheat crop has less time to put on fall tillers, which are proven to be more productive than spring tillers. Increase the seeding rate on wheat fields planted in late October and November to compensate for less fall tillers. Michigan State suggests that by the third or fourth week of October, Michigan farmers should be seeding 2 million or more seeds per acre. Ohio State scientists recommend wheat growers aim for 1.6 million to 2 million seed per acre (24 to 30 seeds per foots in 7.5-inch drilled wheat). When planting wheat; watch your seed size, seed count per pound of wheat seed, and percent germination and adjust seeding rates for these factors. Finally, Penn State university tells Pennsylvania farmers to up their seeding rate by 30% in late-planted fields.

Third, adjust fertilizer rates. Fertilizer at planting can help late-planted wheat fields compensate for limited fall growth. Phosphorus starter fertilizer may be needed to boost tillering and compensate for the plants' lower P uptake during cold weather. Adding 20 to 30 pounds per acre of P alongside the seed may help. In the Midwest, wheat growers can also add 20 pounds nitrogen per acre this fall and put on an early spring N application for late-planted fields to stimulate spring growth. Adding a little calcium fertilizer in row also stimulates seed germination and wheat root growth.

Fourth, consider a seed treatment. A cold soil slows down wheat seed germination and the wheat may be slower to emerge, leaving the wheat seed vulnerable to soil-borne diseases. Fungicide seed treatments may provide up to a month's protection from many common fungal diseases, according to university experts.

Fifth, watch seed placement. Late-planted wheat plants will be smaller and more shallowly rooted heading into the winter. Both Ohio State and Pennsylvania university specialist recommend growers make sure wheat is uniformly drilled 1-1.5 inches deep into no-till, to protect from winter temperatures and soil "heaving" as the ground freezes and thaws. Planting deeper into no-till may reduce winter heaving by up to 95%.

Six, slow down and apply burn down herbicides. Pennsylvania research shows that the larger equipment and the faster the drill travels; the more the drill rides up out of the soil and therefore places seed shallower. This leads to poor root development and if any heaving occurs roots may be exposed to weather and herbicide applications. Finally, do not leave out the herbicide burndown; start the crop off clean to ensure a weed free seed bed.

Seven, adjust yield expectations downward, and realign inputs. While some growers have achieved yields comparable to their farm average, it is more likely yields will be around 80 percent below that of timely seeded fields (assuming significant winter damage is not a factor) according to Michigan wheat experts. Ohio State University research shows that wheat planted around the fly free date yields 100% of expected yield on average, dropping to 97% of expected yield if planted 14 days late, 90% if planted 21 days late, and only 77% of expected yield if planted 28 days late (4 weeks late), on average.

Wheat can be successfully planted late, but it takes some special management (and good weather) to get high yields. For cover crops, some brassicas like rape seed and kale can be planted in October, while barley and cereal rye are two grasses that can still be planted in October.