Ask the Agronomist

The Wheat News asks about good residue management and seed selection.

C & M Seeds’ agronomists Alex Zelem (AZ) and Tim Meulensteen (TM) weigh in on variety selection and residue management.

TWN: What do you view to be to the primary decision factors involved when a grower chooses their wheat to grow?

AZ: There are many factors a grower should consider during their variety selection process. The first thing I would look at is variety performance. Consider local trials with multi year data. From there, select a variety that is best suited for your farm, soil type, yield environment and your wheat management strategy. Depending on your location to certain delivery points, some varieties offer excellent marketing opportunities and the possibility to capture niche markets. Yield is KING but a strong agronomic package tailored to your management approach is crucial for best chances of success. Below are my top five agronomic characteristics to consider:

  1. Disease tolerance (Fusarium tolerance always a must, but don’t forget about stripe rust after what we have seen this year)
  2. Winter survivability and lodging potential
  3. Emergence and early season vigor
  4. Test weight and protein
  5. Maturity date

TM: For me, the decision starts with storage ability and market access, this will lead you to the list of potential grain marketing options. From there, you can decide what class of wheat you want to grow. After the class is chosen, you look for a variety. First, find best match for your soil type, and geography. Next, consider the disease tolerance package of the variety, pick one that will give you a chance to withstand what may be waiting in the winds, such as stripe rust or Fusarium. Verify your choices with most local OCCC trial results and comparable on-farm trial results. Consider multi-mode seed treatments that have been professionally applied to give the seed the best start. Seed treatments really prove their added value when planting season drags into sub-optimal conditions (cooler, wetter, later planting).

TWN: Please describe aspects of proper residue management

AZ: In Ontario we can get some nasty weather that can wreak havoc on the winter wheat crop. It is truly amazing what a small wheat seedling can survive. There are a multitude of management strategies that need to be followed in the fall. However, one of the most important management strategies is proper residue management in order to achieve proper seed placement and soil to seed contact. Your residue management strategy starts prior to the combines hitting the fields the fall. Carefully inspect the straw chopper and stationary knives to make sure they are sharp, in good working condition and properly adjusted. It is crucial that residue is sized properly and spread evenly across the entire width of the header! If your combine is not capable of spreading the entire width of the header, look at upgrading the residue management system or to be blunt, get a smaller header. Depending on the weather conditions in the fall and the amount of residue from the previous crop, sometimes a light vertical tillage pass may be necessary to aid in residue management and seedbed preparation in order to achieve proper seed depth (1”-1.5”) and soil to seed contact.

TM: The best wheat crops will start before the seed units are even on your farm. The performance of your combine and residue spreaders are paramount to giving your seed drill a chance to place seeds in the proper place, to emerge properly, and to establish a durable root system. Your seed placement and establishment will instantly influence the remaining production ability of your crop. The chaff from a prior crop (soy, canola, edibles) must be sized properly to allow full distribution across the complete working width of the combine header. Check your spreader knives – you might be surprised. If you harvest when ground is fit and you properly spread residue, that should eliminate any requirement to do tillage prior to seeding wheat. Just confirm your actual drill seeding depth is 1.0 – 1.5”, add a starter fertilizer, and head to the field – no tillage required!

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