The winter season doesn’t just bring cold weather. Now is the time to check up on that winter wheat you planted. Winter wheat may not seem like a normal crop to some, but in fact it can greatly benefit a farm. Studies show that growing winter wheat typically out-yields spring wheat by at least 20 percent. But just like any other crop, winter wheat brings with it a list of questions. You have to figure out when to plant the crop, determine how deep the seeds need to be, and protect your growing plants from different fungal infections.
As we’ve said before, it’s funny that some people believe winter is a vacation season for the farmer. It’s just a new set of crops and new challenges to face. But there are some ways to make the winter season a bit less painful and potentially more fruitful, especially when it comes to growing winter wheat. What are they? Well, let’s take a look.
Plant Early and Plant Shallow
First of all, you’ve hopefully already planted any winter wheat by now, so this part is advice for next year. North Dakota State University recommends seeding winter wheat between September 1 and September 15. Planting so early helps improve the chances your wheat will survive the winter, according to university officials. The reason is because wheat planted in September will likely have more than three leaves and well-developed crowns by the time winter arrives.
The university’s research found that if you delay planting until October, it can cause a five to 10 percent yield penalty each week. If you wait to plant until the end of October, your wheat crop has less than a 50 percent chance of survival. Now even though it’s beneficial to plant early, that does leave the seeds vulnerable to fungal infections. So to prevent that, university officials suggest using a fungicide or insecticide seed treatment.
Once you’ve decided when to plant, the question is how deep. It may seem bizarre, but the best option is to plant shallow, no deeper than 1 to 1.5 inches down. Since your farm’s soil is usually depleted of moisture in the fall, planting shallow makes it easier for the seeds to access water when it rains. Also, planting shallow helps the plants emerge from the ground faster at a time when the temperature is quickly dropping.
Protect Your Growing Winter Wheat
As the winter weather rolls in, you need to kill some wheat to protect your growing crop. By that we mean eliminating all the volunteer wheat, the plants that grew on their own during the fall. That’s because this volunteer wheat, as well as any weeds in the field, drain moisture from the soil and can be a breeding ground for aphids, sawflies and Hessian flies. So by removing all the volunteer wheat, you reduce the risk of those insects attacking your winter wheat crop.
You’re also on a time limit, as all volunteer wheat must be removed at least two weeks before the winter wheat emerges. Officials at Colorado State University recommend using herbicides to cut down on your wheat and grassy weeds. But in this case, one size doesn’t fit all. Different herbicides will fit best, depending on what type of field you have.
Now if you can’t clean out all the volunteer wheat before your crop comes up, there are a few options. One of the easiest is to douse all your plants with insecticidal soap, according to the Penn State University Extension. Insecticidal soap is a home remedy of sorts, one that you can easily assemble.
You take one cup of oil (any type including peanut, corn, soybean or vegetable oil) and mix it with one tablespoon of dishwashing liquid. Mix two teaspoons of this soap for every cup of warm water until you have enough to use on your whole crop. For more suggestions, our insect removal guide can help.
Adjusting for Rain or Snow
Winter is typically a wet season, with not just rain, but ice and snow in the mix. As we all know, snow melts and can cause winter floods. But the good part is that doesn’t have to destroy your winter crop. Wheat can survive for up to 96 hours underwater, if the temperature is below 60. You will need to take some action, however.
Check the fields and see if surface crusts form as the soil dries. You’ll need to tear those up, since the crusts can prevent plants from breaking through to the surface as they grow. Here’s some more information to help your crops recover from wet winter weather.
Of course, preserving grain quality doesn’t end when you harvest your winter wheat. Although post-harvest grain quality can’t be improved once it’s harvested, you can do a lot to preserve its quality in storage. We’ve been guiding farmers and grain managers in this endeavor for decades, so we know what works and what doesn’t.
If you have questions about protecting your winter wheat crop, or about monitoring the temperature of stored grain, just give us a call at 1 800 GET TEMP (1 800 438 8367). We’ll be happy to answer all your grain storage questions or give you a quote on various types of grain temperature monitoring solutions.