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Planting Winter Wheat – 2017 (08/17/17)

Currently there is a large spread between the price of winter wheat and spring wheat.

Currently there is a large spread between the price of winter wheat and spring wheat. Never the less, winter wheat might still be a viable option for some farming operations in North Dakota. Winter wheat spreads out the workload because of when it is planted and harvested and it can provide important green cover this fall and early next spring for fields that were hayed earlier this year due to drought. Furthermore, winter wheat can have a significant yield advantage over spring wheat. As an example, even with the very dry conditions in southwestern North Dakota, the winter wheat trial at Hettinger averaged 82 bu/acre this year. In addition to the issue of price, winterkill and greater susceptibility to several diseases are challenges to successful winter wheat production. The following are some suggestions that might help mitigate the risks associated with planting winter wheat.

1-   When possible, plant winter wheat into standing stubble. Survival of winter wheat during the winter is enhanced when it is covered with snow during the coldest months of the year. Standing crop residues can effectively retain snow. Tall, erect flax and canola stubble works best, but any erect stubble that retains snow is recommended. Planting winter wheat into wheat stubble is not ideal for disease reasons, but as long as disease management is planned, wheat stubble can be an acceptable residue.

2-   Plant a winter hardy variety, especially if you are not planting into a standing residue. Based on the North Dakota Winter Wheat Selection Guide (A1196-16) Accipiter, Decade, Flourish, Moats, Peregrine, Radiant, WB Matlock are the most winter hardy varieties in recent tests. Varieties developed in Canada, North Dakota, Montana and South Dakota usually have good winter-hardiness and, in most years, will survive the North Dakota winters adequately. For availability of certified seed refer to the seed guides in North Dakota and South Dakota. Winter wheat variety trial results from 2016 are summarized in the A1196-16 and results from trials conducted in 2017 can be found at

3-   Plant in September: The optimum planting date for the northern half of the state is September 1-15 and for the southern half, September 15-30. In recent years, plantings during the first ten days of October have largely been successful. The last practical date that winter wheat can be planted will depend on the weather but there must be enough moisture and growing degree days so that the seed can germinate and the seedling vernalize by spring. Larger seedlings will over winter better than smaller ones. Target the earlier portion of the recommended planting date range if planting into bare, fallow ground.

4-   Plant 1 to 1.5 inches deep: Adequate moisture for establishing winter wheat is often a concern as the soil profile is usually depleted of moisture in the fall. If there is little or no moisture in the soil’s surface, planting shallow (1 to 1.5 inches deep) and waiting for rain is recommended. Furthermore, these relatively shallow planting depths allow for faster emergence when temperatures are rapidly declining.

5-   Seed about a million seeds per acre: Generally, a seeding rate of 900,000 to 1.2 million viable seed per acre is adequate. The higher seeding rate may be appropriate if planting late or when planting into poor seedbeds. Since winter wheat tends to tiller more profusely than spring wheat, 1.2 million seeds per acre is the upper end of the recommended seeding rate. Excessively high seeding rates can result in more lodging by harvest time, particularly if you are using a taller variety (like Jerry).

6-   Break the green bridge. Breaking the green bridge is critical to reducing the risk of infection of the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus. This disease is vectored by a tiny mite that moves from green tissue to green tissue by wind. Breaking the green bridge is particularly important when winter wheat is planted early. The green bridge is broken by controlling volunteer cereal crops and grassy weeds in a field, two weeks prior to planting winter wheat. A two-week window of not having a host present assures that the mite has gone through its lifecycle and died before finding a host to feed on and transmit the virus.

7-   Avoid varieties that are highly susceptible to scab. Scab is not always a problem in winter wheat, but there were significant losses due to scab in 2014 and 2015 (no reports yet about the 2017 crop). Check the recent Selection Guide for the level of scab resistance in currently available varieties. The following rated as the most resistant: Emerson, Lyman, Moats and Redfield.

Joel Ransom

Extension Agronomist for Cereal Crops

This site is supported in part by the Crop Protection and Pest Management Program [grant no. 2017-70006-27144/accession 1013592] from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed are those of the website author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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