Spring Assessment

How to assess your winter wheat stand in the spring.

Give the plants a chance to wake up. 

Wait for at least three warm (above 15C) days after the snow goes away.  It can be done sooner, but may be difficult to determine the live plants if you look too early.  Leave the replant decision as late as possible to accurately determine plant stand and plant health.  If possible, obtain the opinion of your Certified Crop Advisor and/or seed dealer as well.

Quantify your plant stand.  Calculate the average number of plants per foot of row.

Determine the length of one foot of row.  (carry a 12” clipboard, a tape measure, or know the length of your boot).  Place between two rows of wheat and count the number of plants on either side.  (be careful to count plants, you will need to dig up a few to check for tillering).  The healthy plants were likely seeded close to 1” deep.  Do this for 10 random spots in a field.  Make it random, but also make it representative.  Try to avoid old wheel tracks, guess rows, knolls, or valleys.  Once you have 20 counts (two counts at each of ten spots), take the average.  Pub 811 shows research that 7 plants per foot of row will still produce a 90% of the yield of a full stand.  My personal cut off point is 10.  If you have a stand with 7 plants or less – terminate it.  If you have 8 to 10 plants – carefully weigh alternatives.  A stand with 11 plants or more is worth keeping.  Pay attention to the uniformity too, many large gaps or many bunches are not good.  Ideal count would be 15 uniform plants in a foot of row.  A strong stand with full potential would be to have 450 – 600 good heads per square yard.  If most plants will make between two and three good heads, this equates to a requirement of 12 – 17 plants per foot of row.

Quantify your winter kill or drown out areas.

Often, these areas look worse than they really are.  If you have three areas that are 20 paces by 60 paces in size, this is still only a total of 0.75 acres.  This is less than one percent of a 90 acre farm.  If less than 10% of the field is killed out, but the majority looks good, keep it.  Consider reseeding another spring grain in these areas and harvest them separately for forage or feed grain.

Understand your reseeding options.

If your stand is not acceptable, what makes sense to grow in its place?  Can your harvest equipment handle more of a different crop?  Do I want to grow another year of soys on that farm?  Can I still access premium IP soy contracts?  If Plan B is spring wheat, it will do best if it is planted early, so be ready.  Will you spray off the winter wheat pre-pant or pre-emerge?

Understand your Crop Insurance procedures if you wish to terminate the stand.

If you see that you may have a problem, understand the processes involved so that you are not slowed down when it comes time to make the corrective action.  Who do you need to inform?  When do you need to inform them?  Do you need to take pictures?

Determining Yield Potential for Various Plant Stand Counts
Number of Plants
% Yield
Planting Date
per metre of row per foot of row Yield t/ha (bu/acre)
Oct. 5 Oct. 15
5.34 (80)
4.84 (72)
5.11 (76)
4.57 (68)
4.84 (72)
4.37 (65)
4.57 (68)
4.10 (61)
4.30 (64)
3.90 (58)

Source: Smid, Ridgetown College, University of Guelph, 1986-90.

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Peter Johnson – Scouting Wheat in the spring

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