Successful wheat production begins with early season management decisions that will affect. yield and profitability. Such decisions include land selection, seedbed preparation, variety selection, seeding dates, seeding rates and depth and fertilization in the fall.
Wheat is most productive when grown in soil that has good surface and internal drainage. The old saying that “wheat does not like wet feet” is very true. Fields with poor drainage that are subject to flooding or extended periods of standing water will reduce stands and yields. Weather patterns and rainfall cannot be controlled, but planting wheat on well drained soils will reduce the risk of stand and yield loss during periods of heavy and/or extended rain events.
Planting wheat on a well-prepared seedbed with adequate moisture allows for uniform seed germination and emergence. Rolling prepared seedbeds will create a firm planting surface that allows even better control of seeding depth enhancing uniform germination and emergence.
Although wheat planting is near and most variety decisions have been made, selecting good varieties is essential. High quality, certified seed should be used. If using bin-run seed, a germination test should be performed as well as having seed cleaned to remove foreign matter. Yield data for the top performing varieties in north Louisiana from the LSU Ag Center’s variety evaluation’s publication is the best place to look. One to three year variety data is available but selections should be made using two to three data year. Varieties that perform well in the two to three year data will prove to be more consistent and stable performers in the field. Variety characteristics are available in the publications that should be considered when making variety decisions including maturity, vernalization, lodging resistance as well as yield and rust resistance. Selecting varieties that have been evaluated for two to three years will reduce the risk of surprises during the crop season that may have a dramatic effect on yield.
Recommended wheat planting dates for north Louisiana is October 15 – November 15 with adequate moisture and a favorable weather forecast. These are not absolute, hard and fast dates, but they are based on years of planting date research and should be used as a guide for planting date decisions. Late maturing varieties should be planted in the early window of recommended planting periods to allow for adequate vernalization. Early maturing varieties with shorter vernalization requirements should be planted in the latter part of recommended planting window. These suggestions will also reduce the risks of early season insect damage as well as winter kill in March and early April.
Although wheat is a cool season crop that requires enough days of cool temperatures, or vernalization, for maximum yields, optimum soil temperatures for rapid seed germination is 54-77 degrees Fahrenheit. Wheat will germinate in soil temperatures as low as 40 degrees Fahrenheit but will take longer, increasing the risk of less than optimum emergence.
Planting wheat with a grain drill is the preferred method versus broadcast. Grain drills allow for more uniform depth of planting that result in a more uniform stand as well as reduced seeding rates. Broadcast seeding should be followed by light disking or harrowing to cover seed to ensure good seed/soil contact that will increase germination.
Seeding rates during recommended planting dates on well-prepared seedbeds with adequate moisture are 70-90 pounds per acre. Wheat with good fertility tillers exceptionally well producing good yields. If less than optimum conditions exist at planting, such as poorly prepared seedbeds, broadcast planting, poorly drained fields, inadequate moisture at planting etc., seeding rates should be increased 10-20 percent.
Wheat emerges best when planted at a depth of ¾ - 1½ inch into adequate moisture for germination but may be planted at a depth of 2 inches or greater if needed to reach moisture. Planting at shallower depths normally results in a quick and more uniform emergence.
Fertilization should always begin with a soil test and nutrients applied according to recommendations. Phosphorus and potassium should be applied and incorporated. Fall applications of nitrogen (N) may be used to encourage tiller production but excessove application of N may cause excessive growth and wheat may be more susceptible to winter injury. Common sources of phosphorus, DAP or MAP, contain adequate amounts of N to promote tillering.