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Tips for Planting Winter Wheat and Winter Rye (for Grain) (08/15/19)

Winter wheat plantings have been less than 100,000 acres for the past few years.

Winter wheat plantings have been less than 100,000 acres for the past few years. This may partially be due to its price relative to spring wheat and weather-related factors that made it difficult to plant during the recommended planting period. Nevertheless, winter wheat may be a good fit in some situations as it can spread out the workload, provide important green cover this fall and early next spring, and often has a yield advantage over spring wheat. Winter rye acreage, on the other hand, increased substantially this past year, with more than 60,000 acres planted. Some of this was as a cover crop, but of the 60,000 acres planted, it is estimated that half of those acres will be harvested for grain/seed. Given the massive amount of prevented plant acres this year in the Midwest, the demand for rye seed this fall will likely be substantial. The recommendations for establishing winter rye and winter wheat are similar. Rye tends to be more winter hardy than winter wheat, so some of the issues related to snow cover are less critical for its survival than winter wheat. The following are recommended practices for establishing winter wheat and winter rye:


                1-            When possible plant winter wheat and rye into standing stubble. Survival of these crops during the winter is enhanced when they are 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 if disease management is planned, wheat stubble can be an acceptable residue. Winter wheat and winter rye can be established on ground that was not planted this season. However, if the winter is open there is greater risk of winter kill when not planted into residue. Since rye is more winter hardy that winter wheat, it is probably a better option when planting on prevent plant acres as far as winter survival is concerned. If you are not planting into a standing residue, plant the most winter-hardy varieties of winter wheat. Refer to the North Dakota Winter Wheat Selection Guide (A1196-16) for information on winter hardiness. Availability of certified seed may be somewhat limited due to small winter wheat acreage. Refer to the seed guides in North Dakota and South Dakota to source certified seed. For rye, certified seed was produced only for ND Dylan in North Dakota. Winter wheat variety trial results from 2018 are summarized in the A1196-18 and can be found at Yield trial results are also available for rye, but finding seed of most of the varieties tested may be difficult (see

2-            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 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. Since some of the ground where rye (and perhaps winter wheat) will be planted is currently bare, I have been asked, how early can rye be planted? Rye that is planted now should survive the winter and produce a crop next spring. Since rye requires vernalization in order to flower, it will remain in a vegetative state until spring. There may be some increase in risk of rye becoming infected with wheat streak mosaic virus when planted early (in August), however. The wheat curl mites that vector this virus are more active when temperatures are warm. Therefore, strive to break the green bridge when planting early, meaning control any grasses and volunteer small grains at least two weeks before planting.

3-            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 (this will not likely be the case in prevent plant acres). 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.

4-            Seed about a million seeds per acre. This applies to both winter wheat and winter rye for grain. 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 cereals tends to tiller more profusely than spring cereals, 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. Lodging can be a problem for rye!

Joel Ransom

Extension Agronomist, Small Grains and Corn


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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