Arguably one of the best ways to improve wheat yields is to plant earlier in the fall. For this reason, some farmers are taking advantage of alternative rotations that would free-up ground earlier than the usual soybean to wheat rotation. For example, fields may be available to timely wheat planting where there are acres designated as prevented planting or where there is an alternative crop ear-marketed for early harvest.
In the long term, because most wheat follows soybeans, the best opportunity to sow earlier is by simply selecting earlier maturing soybeans for fields that will be seeded to wheat. This will result in little, if any, reduction in soybean yields according to Michigan State University soybean trials. (For more information, see the Michigan State University Extension article, “Should you plant earlier maturing soybean varieties?”) On the other hand, this strategy could easily lead to a 5 to 10 bushel per acre yield improvement for the more timely planted wheat crop; it is estimated that wheat yields decline 1.1 bushels per acre for every day sowing is delayed beyond the optimum seeding date for a particular region.
The best crop rotation will continue to be either soybean or dry edible beans for most farms in Michigan, except if it means delaying wheat planting until mid- or even late October. Because wheat is a flexible and adaptable crop, there are other rotations that some farms may want to try. For example, fields designated as prevented planting, and then fallowed this summer, offer a good opportunity for a timely planting in September, especially where wheat did not precede the year of fallowing.
Other opportunities to move up the time of wheat seeding might be to consider following crops that are harvested relatively early, such as oats, sugarbeets, hay crops and, with precautionary measures, even corn silage. I’ve developed a fact sheet, “Planting wheat earlier using alternative rotations,” that lists Michigan crops that wheat could potentially follow and comments on some of the possible constraints to each rotation. The constraints usually revolve around potential disease problems, so growers should be vigilant in scouting the subsequent wheat crop and employing any suggested preventative measures.