Planting Small Grains Tips


Wheat Field

Local farmers had excellent wheat yields this year and with higher wheat prices, wheat can be a profitable enterprise. The war with Russia and Ukraine continues to keep wheat prices higher than normal. For crop rotation purposes, adding wheat may reduce weed populations and some diseases. If wheat is planted and harvested in a timely manner, it is possible to double crop soybeans or grow a cover crop. Farmers also have the option of baling straw as another enterprise. Wheat and other small grain crops like barley, cereal rye, oats all have some possibilities for expanding the crop rotation and giving an alternative crop to harvest.

For high yields, early planting is critical to get the crop off to a good start. Winter wheat is generally planted in September and it is not recommended before the Hessian Fly free date (From September 22 in Northern Ohio to October 5th in Southern Ohio). In Ohio, best results are wheat planted within 10 days of the Hessian Fly free date for each county. Hessian fly problems do not occur often but it can devastate a wheat crop. The Hessian Fly Free date is still valid because it’s a date for reducing the incidence of many wheat diseases like aphids carrying barley yellow dwarf disease, but also minimizes problems with Stagedoor blotch and leaf rust.

High yielding wheat depends on genetics. Select wheat varieties that are high yielding, have high disease resistance, good straw strength, and have a high-test weight. Many new wheat varieties are going to a shorter stem with more energy for grain production. However, there are still high yielding wheat varieties with longer stems. If you want to bale straw as an enterprise, select the traditional wheat varieties. If you do not plan to harvest the straw, shorter varieties have less straw going through the combine. For double crop soybeans or cover crops, harvesting the straw is acceptable as the straw tends to reduce germination. When selling straw, account for all the nutrients removed.

A good wheat seeding rate is 1.2 million to 1.6 million seeds per acre or 18-24 seed per foot on 7.5-inch drill. A bushel of wheat has about 900,000 seeds per bushel on average or 14,000 to 16,000 seeds per pound, but that varies so check your seed count. Plant at least 1 to 1.5 inches deep into moisture.

Crop rotation is important. Avoid planting wheat back to wheat or after corn. Both corn and wheat are grasses and they harbor similar diseases. Usually, wheat is planted after an early maturing soybean variety. Wheat grows best at about 770F but no more than 860F with bright sunlight but it also grows well in cooler temperatures with adequate moisture.

Wheat also needs adequate nutrition. Nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium (N-P-K) are critical for good growth. Take a good soil test before planting if one has not been taken in the last 3 years. Most wheat needs 20-40 pounds N in the fall. Planting after soybeans helps but some extra N, especially in the ammonium form to improve stands. Wheat responds to N at three critical stages; planting, about V-5 (five true leaves), and when wheat starts heading. Ammonium sulfate gives wheat both N and S (sulfur). Sulfur has become more limiting in our soils as the Clean Air Act has removed free sulfur in the atmosphere from our power plants.

Phosphorus (P) often can be limiting and helps with energy production. Adequate Potassium (K) helps with growing roots and stronger stems. Adequate K also helps plants survive heat, drought, and cold stress. Calcium and Boron help planters tiller, increase flowers (kernels) and also help improve test weights. In the spring, adequate manganese (Mn) and zinc (Zn) increase head size. Ideally, 60 to 70 wheat heads per square foot are needed for high yields.

A big issue is starting out weed free. Fall germinating weeds can reduce wheat growth. In the spring, fungicides are often used to reduce fungal diseases. Farmers should soil test for copper soil levels to get high wheat yields. Copper helps with pollination, improves the plants immune system to disease, and improves wheat plant health.

For farmers wanting to plant cereal rye for seed production, some of the same principles apply. Cereal rye needs a higher seeding rate at 2-3 bushel per acre because it does not tiller as well as wheat. It needs 50# N applied in the fall and regular rates of spring applied N, then it definitely needs a fungicide to protect against Ergot and probably also a growth regulator to reduce lodging. Cereal rye can produce high yields but it takes good management.