2021 Small Grain Update

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It has been brought to my attention that wheat seed may be in short supply this year. What I’m hearing is that there will be seed, and most likely enough to supply demand. However, strong prices leading to increased acreage will put pressure on the better varieties. Part of attaining better yields is to plant a variety with better yield potential. Be talking with your seed supplier to better position yourself to get the variety you want.

Managing our wheat crop for maximum output. Here are some key factors:

  1. Use a good variety, one that has proven itself over time! Click the link below to view several varieties that are proven over 2-3 years across NC Official Variety Tests. Fine-tune your selection- Once you have reviewed the variety of performance data, you might also want to fine-tune your selection for specific pests for disease resistance. A resistant variety can reduce the likelihood of a fungicide application thereby reducing costs per acre.

Minimize risk, maximize yield- Producers should plant at least three varieties. To avoid freeze damage, at least one of those should be late heading. Late heading varieties do well if they are the first ones you plant. Early heading varieties should be planted last. The varieties are listed with growing degree units (GDU’s) to 50% heading. The smaller the number the earlier they mature.

  1. Fall tillers are a must! Proper fertilization- A major key to creating fall tillers is to apply some nitrogen to the wheat crop at planting. Fertilize and lime according to soil test reports. Consider applying 20 to 30 pounds of nitrogen per acre at planting to help increase fall tillering. pH issues hinder wheat yield and are difficult to address in the spring to help wheat yields. A high-yielding wheat crop needs 90-130 lbs of Nitrogen during the growing season depending on soil type. It is a necessity that when N is applied, Sulfur is also applied to keep N:S ratio’s in order. If needed to increase early-season tillering, using a split application of N by applying 40-70 pounds with the rate depending on tiller density. Then apply the rest in early to mid-March. N is very important for test weight in wheat so some residual N needs to be available at seed production. I recommend the split unless tiller density is 100 plus in early February and wheat is showing no signs of deficiency. All of the N needs to be applied by GS 30 (growing point above the ground). A wheat crop yielding 80 bushels/A requires 80 pounds of phosphorus and 128 pounds of potassium. Sulfur increases kernel size, weight, and protein. An 80 bushel/A crop needs 20 plus pounds of Sulfur, but more importantly, N:S ratios need to be around 15-18:1 for the crop the utilize both nutrients. Dolomitic lime usually keeps calcium and magnesium levels at proper rates. However, both are very important and need to be maintained. If low, an application of Kmag and gypsum may be needed. Other micronutrients should be managed as well. Copper, Iron, Boron, Manganese, and Zinc are needed to produce high-yielding wheat. If needed, most can be applied as foliar. High pH can cause manganese deficiency. Wheat can tiller in the spring, but spring tillers generally yield and weigh less than fall tillers. It doesn’t take a lot; 30-40 units will be sufficient. Do not expect a high-yield wheat crop to scavenge leftover nitrogen! 300-400 lbs. of 10-20-20 will provide the right amount of N and will help replace the P & K that will be removed.

3. If you are no-tilling your wheat, be sure to start clean! Weeds harbor insects, some of which can pass along viral diseases such as Barley Yellow Dwarf. Even if a field “looks” clean from the road, make sure and use a burndown. Weed escapes compete for water, light, and for nutrients. We have a fairly short window to make those fall tillers and we don’t need any competition.

4. Get the seed in the ground!  Seed planted too shallow runs a much greater risk of frost heave. Frost heaved plants will be very poor yielders. Put the seed in the ground .75-1.0 inches deep to help develop a high-quality root system. Seed planted that deep will have access to more consistent temperature and moisture levels which will lead to a high-quality stand.

5.  Calibrate Planters (Drills)
A proper seeding rate is important. A short video on calibration can be seen at Calibrating a Grain Drill. If planting on time with 90% or better germination seed, the recommended target seeding rate is 1.3-1.5 million seeds per acre. Note the chart below for additional information.

Million seeds per acre:      1.31           1.52
Seeds per square foot:       30              35

Seed size                     Pounds of seed
(seeds per pound)                    per acre
10,000                      131              152
11,000                      119              138
12,000                      109              127
12,500                      105              122
13,000                      101              117
14,000                       94               109
15,000                       87               101

Drill row spacing                        Seed
(inches)                     per drill-row foot
6                           15                  17
7                           18                  20
7.5                         19                  22
8                           20                  23

The above rates should be increased by 20% for no-till plantings. Increase the above rates by 13% if using 80% germination seed. Increase the above rates 4-5% for each week planting is delayed beyond the dates noted earlier in this email.

  1. Weed control– With the new products that are on the market, Italian Ryegrass can be controlled pre-emergence due to the fact that we have several products that are labeled to be applied at the spike stage, including Zidua, Anthem Flex, and Fierce. Remember pre-emergence products need moisture for activation. Some of these products will also control broadleaves. We still have over-the-top products like Osprey and Axial, but control is much better when herbicides are applied to small ryegrass. New products like Quelex can help control broadleaves in wheat. Please look at the 2021 NC Ag Chemical Manual for more recommendations.

All Varieties-Coastal Plain

All Varieties Awned R or MR for Leaf Rust and Powdery Mildew-Coastal Plain

All Varieties R or MR for Leaf Rust and Powdery Mildew-Coastal Plain

Wheat Varieties (taken from the Variety Selection Tool)

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Disclaimer agrichemicals:

Recommendations for the use of agricultural chemicals are included in this publication as a convenience to the reader. The use of brand names and any mention or listing of commercial products or services in this publication does not imply endorsement by North Carolina Cooperative Extension nor discrimination against similar products or services not mentioned. Individuals who use agricultural chemicals are responsible for ensuring that the intended use complies with current regulations and conforms to the product label. Be sure to obtain current information about usage regulations and examine a current product label before applying any chemical. For assistance, contact your county Cooperative Extension agent.