Accepting that every season presents a few obstacles, it’s fair to suggest that 2015 will prove more generous than the 2014 wheat season. Granted, that is not saying much as some 85,000 acres of the 2014 wheat crop never survived the winter and spring. The bulk of these acres were lost to 2014 winter’s severe weather. A summary of the 2014 wheat season can be found in the fact sheet “Overview of the 2014 wheat season” by Michigan State University Extension.
The first challenge of the 2015 wheat season was actually faced last fall as soybean development and harvest was seriously delayed, making it difficult for growers to plant all of their intended acres. In fact, by mid-October, only 60 percent of the crop was reported to have been planted. Because of the cool soil temperatures, most of the latest planted acres did not see plant emergence until December.
The second obstacle facing this year’s wheat is surviving cold temperatures and spring flooding. For the most part, wheat is expected to have had a reasonably good cold survival because of generous snow cover. The fields most susceptible to stand loss due to the cold will be those planted very late last fall and those that were aerial-seeded into standing soybeans. As always, Michigan wheat stands are currently facing their greatest risk period as prolonged periods of standing water and ice-sheeting tends to occur during the spring thaw.
Other obstacles to attaining profitable wheat are likely to emerge as the season progresses. However, based on what is known at this point, growers may want to make some management adjustments. For example, wheat planted late last fall will likely respond to an early application of fertilizer nitrogen. This can be applied on frosted – not frozen – ground on a frigid morning once the ground has thawed or as soon as the soil has sufficiently dried to accommodate traffic. For wheat planted on a timely basis last fall, the wheat should have sufficient tillering and growth to do well with delaying applications until the latter part of April if preferred.
Another reasonable suggestion regarding those October and November seedlings would be to adjust yield expectations and reconsider the costs of individual inputs to realign projected income and expenses. Even where a field has a stand of 25 or more seedlings per foot of row, the field may yield 20 percent less had it been seeded in September. This suggests that growers may want to lower their input costs to reflect a downward adjustment in yield. However, this does not mean growers should be conservative with timely planted fields. These should be pushed at least as hard as in the past, assuming crop prices respond to the limited acres in the Great Lakes region.