Plan early to get a head start on successful winter wheat season

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The 2013 harvest is running later than usual in many areas, but winter wheat planting is closing in. Representing more than three quarters of total U.S. wheat production – and as the dominant wheat class in U.S. exports – it is an important crop for many farmers from the Southeast to the Pacific Northwest. For a successful season, agronomists and university experts across the country strongly urge starting the season with a comprehensive plan.

Taking action early will help prevent future problems so farmers can grow more wheat, says Don Drader, Syngenta agronomic service representative in Washington.

“By preparing now and identifying problem areas, growers can prevent small issues from getting worse and worse,” Drader explains. “Plan ahead to ensure you are taking the best possible actions for the full season.” 

Here are several important considerations for growers building a season-long management plan.

Select varieties to spread risk

As growers begin planning for the winter wheat planting season, Syngenta urges them to do their research, says Sarah Gehant, Syngenta agronomic service representative in Kentucky. “I recommend looking closely at what characteristics different wheat varieties have to offer,” Gehant says. “It’s important to find those that fit your farm plan.” By choosing three to four different seed varieties with different maturity rates, the risk of uncontrollable factors, such as temperature and moisture, is spread out. In addition, planting certified seed varieties helps ensure genetic purity, smoother plantability, seed vigor and improved germination and emergence. Syngenta’s AgriPro brand certified seed varieties deliver high yield potential, good test weights, quality grain and superior disease protection. Plant later-maturing varieties first and earlier-maturing varieties later.

Control lingering pests with burndown

It is important to establish a clean field at least two weeks before planting. If not, insects and diseases  living on previous crops or remaining weeds can travel to newly emerging wheat and other fall crops, setting up potentially devastating crop issues like barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) and Hessian fly. A Touchdown brand herbicide delivers down-to-the-roots, systemic burndown control of a broad spectrum of emerged annual and perennial grass and broadleaf weeds so growers can start with a clean field.

Seed treatments provide extra security

As the big weather swings of the past couple of years have shown, it’s impossible to predict what the season will bring. That’s why experts strongly suggest growers use seed treatment options. Not only do these products help eliminate insects and diseases that negatively impact yield potential, some can also improve crop stand – giving the plant extra support to withstand a variety of weather conditions. “It gives your wheat crop a head start,” says Gehant. “An application of CruiserMaxx Vibrance Cereals seed treatment insecticide/fungicide helps wheat establish stronger, healthier root systems that result in a more productive crop – and increased yield and profit potential.”

Scout fields to identify, get ahead of issues

Scouting is one of the simplest and most cost effective ways to be proactive. Make several passes throughout the season to really get to know your field, keeping an eye out for anything unusual. “One example of the importance of scouting comes in the area of herbicide-resistant weeds,” Drader explains. “In many areas, we are starting to see some resistant weeds develop, and if a grower isn’t taking time to look at his field, identify those issues and take appropriate action, he could exacerbate the problem.” 

Benefit from plant growth regulators

Growers increasing nitrogen rates for higher wheat yield tend to have plants with bigger heads. The bigger the head, the more it weighs, and while that’s good for yield and profit, it puts more stress on the stem and increases the likelihood of lodging. Plants that endure high winds and heavy rain are similarly prone to lodging, which can slow harvest and reduce yield by 10 to 40 percent. To strengthen the crop’s ability to withstand these conditions, consider an application of a plant growth regulator such as Palisade EC. “Where we applied Palisade, we saw shortening of the wheat and increased stem diameter and standability,” says Patrick Hurt, Security Seeds research director in Hopkinsville, Ky. “In fact, we were able to increase nitrogen rates, and the wheat was still able to stand.”

Grow more with crop protection

Common diseases such as stripe rust, powdery mildew and Septoria are a major threat to yield potential in winter wheat. Gehant urges growers to apply a fungicide – such as Quilt Xcel fungicide – early to help prevent these and other diseases from taking over fields. After a Quilt Xcel application, “the plant also isn’t as vulnerable to stress,” Hurt explains. “Overall, it is greener, it has a healthier stem and it is going to be able to stand up better.” Don’t forget to look out for insects, either. Left untreated, they can reduce plant quality by removing sap and severely diminish yield potential by feeding on leaf tissue, among other issues.

By creating a plan to address each of these potential challenges, the end result should be the ability to grow more wheat. “In short, preparing now can result in fewer headaches – and better results – in the future,” Gehant says.


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