Planting wheat into dry soils
Although late summer precipitation has generally been better this year than last year, there are areas in western Nebraska that still have very dry surface soil conditions. With the optimum wheat seeding time upon us in the far west and rapidly approaching further east, many wheat growers are remembering last year's poor wheat stands and wondering what the best strategy may be if rain continues to be scarce. In the following article Jim Shroyer, Extension agronomy state leader, and Loyd Stone, soil and water management specialist, both at Kansas State University, discuss the pros and cons of several possible seeding strategies for this situation. — Drew Lyon, UNL extension dryland crops specialist
Soils are generally very dry in much of Kansas, especially western and southern areas. Producers faced with very dry soils basically have three main options:
1. Dust it in at the normal seeding depth and normal planting date -- and hope for rain. This is probably the best option. The seed will remain viable in the soil until it gets enough moisture. Before planting, producers should look at the long-term forecast and try to estimate how long the dry conditions will persist. If it looks like there’s a good chance the dry weather will continue until at least the back end of the optimum range of planting dates, producers should treat the fields as if they were planting later than the optimum time. Rather than cutting back on seeding rates and fertilizer to save money on a lost cause, producers should increase seeding rates, consider using a fungicide seed treatment, and consider using a starter fertilizer. The idea is to make sure the wheat gets off to a good start and will have enough heads to have good yield potential, assuming it will eventually rain and the crop will emerge late. Wheat that emerges in November almost always has fewer fall tillers than wheat that emerges in September or October.
There are some risks to this option. For one thing, a hard rain could crust over the soil or wash soil off planting ridges and into the seed furrows, potentially causing emergence problems. Another factor is the potential for wind erosion is the field lies unprotected with no ridges. Also, the wheat may not come up until spring, in which case it may have been better not to plant the wheat at all and plant a spring crop instead. Probably the worst-case scenario for this option would be if a light rain occurs and the seed gets just enough moisture to germinate the seed but not enough for the seedlings to emerge through the soil or to survive very long if dry conditions return. This could result in a loss of the stand.