sealPurdue News

September 30, 2002

Wheat will make a 'stand' in conditions other crops abhor

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Wheat can withstand conditions other commodity crops find intolerable, including moisture deficiencies and late planting. What it can't stand are pests and saturated soils.

Farmers planting soft red winter wheat in Indiana this fall should avoid placing their crops at risk of Hessian fly damage. They also should stay away from poor-draining fields and carefully monitor wheat crops for disease-carrying aphids, said Ellsworth Christmas, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service wheat specialist.

"We recommend farmers wait to plant wheat until after the Hessian fly-free date, which comes in late September in far northern Indiana counties and Oct. 9 or 10 in Posey County in extreme southern Indiana," Christmas said. "They also should be concerned about aphids. Last fall was warm, and although wheat was planted after the fly-free date, there was a lot of aphid activity after the wheat emerged. As a result, we had a serious barley yellow dwarf problem."

The Hessian fly can cause plant stunting, winter-kill and reduced yields. Barley yellow dwarf, a virus, leads to plant discoloration and abnormal growth.

Wheat would rather receive too little water than too much. Wet soils predispose wheat to heaving, where plants are pushed out of the ground when variations in temperature first freeze and then thaw out the soil, Christmas said.

"Wheat does not like a wet soil," he said. "It will winter-kill in low areas in the field, particularly if you have too much standing water.

"The other problem you might have with these same soils is heaving in the spring. So site selection is very important. Select a well-drained site – that is where wheat will perform best. If the soil is a bit on the droughty side, even better, because it will perform better than most other crops under those kinds of conditions."

Stand establishment is crucial before the onset of winter, Christmas said. While it is not imperative that wheat be planted in the traditional September-October period, germination is essential for vernalization.

"For best results, we like to see wheat planted as soon after the fly-free date as possible," he said. "But you can plant wheat quite late and still have a successful crop.

"This past year there were a lot of fields planted in early- to mid-November, with good success, mainly because we had an open fall – it was warm and wheat was able to grow and get well established. From the standpoint of the plant itself, all it needs to do is germinate in the fall. It does not have to become a full-grown plant before it goes into the winter months."

Christmas offered other tips for wheat growers:

• Choose wheat varieties with a comprehensive disease resistance package, with yield potential a secondary concern. Purdue Extension Bulletin B814 can help with the selection process. The publication, "Performance of Public and Private Small Grains in Indiana, 2002," can be downloaded online.

• Plant wheat with a no-till drill into soybean residue, if following a soybean crop. If planting wheat after corn, chopping the stalks before seeding acres might be necessary.

• Consider applying a burndown herbicide to control winter annual weeds in soybean fields being planted to wheat.

• Determine soil pH. Wheat prefers a non-acid soil, with a pH of at least 6.0 and, preferably, 6.5. Also, apply phosphorus and nitrogen, as needed.

• Refrain from planting wheat in the same field two consecutive years. Second-year wheat crops are susceptible to take-all, a fungus that causes extensive root rot and premature plant death.

• Decide yield goal and calculate the seeding rate accordingly.

"If your yield goal is in the 75-80 bushel range, I would plant 35 seeds per square foot, and probably plant them at a depth approaching 1.5 inches," Christmas said. "An inch and a quarter is an excellent depth, but you shouldn't plant any more shallow than 1 inch."

Indiana farmers produced 17.2 million bushels of soft red winter wheat this past summer, down 32 percent from 2001. Average yield was 52 bushels per acre.

Soft red winter wheat is used in cookies, cakes and similar products.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415,

Source: Ellsworth Christmas, (765) 494-6373,

Related Web site:
Purdue University Agronomy Extension Small Grains Management

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes,;

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096;

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