Evaluating your 2022 Wheat Crop Population
As spring quickly approaches, the number one question that comes to mind for many is “Will my wheat make it?” With significantly lower wheat acres compared to last year, those who had the opportunity the plant wheat are still concerned regarding the condition of the crop as we move through winter. Across the province, the wheat was certainly not the “prettiest” going into winter from what we have seen in the past however, the fields that The Wheat Team were in still showed signs of life and promise of a strong stand.
Once the snow melts and the wheat breaks dormancy, every wheat producer should evaluate these five factors during their spring assessment to ensure they have a viable crop.
- Survival Rate and Uniformity of Distribution
- Quantify Winter Kill
- Root and Crown Health
- Growth Stage
- Nitrogen and Sulphur Management
Survival Rate and Uniformity
Determine the length of one foot of row and count the number of plants on either side. Do this for ten 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 10 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. The Wheat Team’s cut off point is 10.
• 7 plants/ft or less – terminate it
• 8 to 10 plants/ft – carefully weigh alternatives
• 11 plants/ft or more is worth keeping
Pay attention to the uniformity, too many large gaps or bunches are not good. An Ideal count would be 16 uniform plants with one tiller per foot of row. A strong stand with full potential would have 450 – 600 good heads per square yard. We typically plant around 23 seeds/ft of row in the fall. In the spring, we can make successful wheat crops with as few plants as 8 plants per ft/row. But, success depends on what you do with those 8.
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.
Root and Crown Health
Examine the root structure, look for healthy primary and secondary roots. Healthy roots will be white with a fibrous structure clinging onto soil. Carefully cut the plant in half and examine the crown. A healthy, actively growing crown will be white and located ¾-1 inch below the soil surface.
The growth stage will determine how to carry forward with nitrogen and sulphur application. Count the leaves and tillers, early in the spring the growth stage will range from GS10-29.
Nitrogen and Sulphur Management
The number one strategy to encourage spring tillering is the “Kickstart” application. This is the first application of nitrogen; it gets the young plants off to a good start right out of the gate in the spring. In the early part of the spring growing season, soils are cooler and nutrients are slower to mineralize for plants to access. Once the snow is gone and the wheat is just starting to green-up, applications can be made on crusted soil during a frosty morning, or onto dry ground at first chance. From a crop nutrient use efficiency and an environmental stand point, DO NOT PUT ALL THE NITROGEN ON DURING THIS APPLICATION. 50lbs of actual N in the ammonium form is sufficient and the quickest form available to the plant. The balance of total nitrogen can be put on during the “Yield Maker” application. This application should be made at GS32, second node of the plant pushes up the stem above the soil surface, and the plant will start into rapid growth. The internode length has been determined and the grain head is forming. The crop will be ready to receive the next portion of fertilizer. The nutrients will be used in supplying the energy required to feed the high demands of above ground growth and head formation.
For more information on spring scouting, check out The Wheat Teams “Spring Scouting Tips and Tricks“