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October 7, 2003

Remember wheat? This might be year to grow it again, experts say

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Indiana farmers are rediscovering winter wheat, and since some haven't grown the crop in so long, a refresher course might be in order, said Ellsworth Christmas, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service wheat specialist.

The period for planting winter wheat began two weeks ago in far northern Indiana, while producers in the state's southernmost counties can safely begin seeding their acres this week, Christmas said.

"If a person is considering growing wheat and has not grown it for while or maybe never grown it, there are a couple of things that you need to consider right up front," he said. "Number one is site selection. Wheat is a crop that does not like wet feet, so you need a soil that is well drained. If you have a poorly drained soil, then you can get a lot of death loss from diseases, as well as heaving that may occur in the spring on those soils.

"The second thing you should do is have a soil test run on your field and correct for acid soils. Wheat is very sensitive to soil pH. You can get a lot of winterkill because of poor root systems and development. Much of that is the direct result of either low pH or, perhaps, low phosphorous."

When a farmer chooses to plant wheat also is important, Christmas said. Wheat should be planted between the Hessian fly-free date for a producer's location and three weeks after the date has passed. There are 18 fly-free date zones in Indiana.

"In the northernmost part of Indiana that date was Sept. 22, while in the far southwestern part of the state it is Thursday (10/9)," Christmas said.

"You should not plant in advance of the fly-free date. The Hessian fly is one of the reasons you shouldn't plant ahead of that date, but there are other reasons. The Hessian fly-free date is based on temperatures and the activity of the fly. That also impacts the activity of aphids, which transmit barley yellowdwarf. If we have wheat planted prior to the fly-free date and we have an active aphid population in the field, then you're going to get a pretty heavy infestation of barley yellowdwarf in the fall, and that will significantly reduce the yield."

Christmas also recommended wheat growers:

• Apply 25-30 units of nitrogen, 60 units of phosphorous and 60 units of potassium per acre before planting if they do not plan to conduct a soil test.

• Plant more than one variety of wheat if a large number of acres is being seeded. Planting three or more varieties reduces the risk of an entire single variety field being destroyed by soilborne diseases or other crop threats.

• Seed acres at a plant population of 30-35 plants per square foot. To achieve that population, it might be necessary to plant 40 seeds per square foot.

• Set planting equipment to achieve a seeding depth of at least three-fourths of an inch but no more than 1.5 inches.

Harvested winter wheat acreage reached an all-time low in Indiana in 2002 after decades of steady decline. Indiana's No. 3 row crop behind corn and soybeans rebounded this year. Harvested acreage rose from 330,000 acres a year ago to 430,000 acres in 2003. Hoosier farmers produced 29.67 million bushels of winter wheat this year, up 69 percent from 2002, at a record-tying average yield of 69 bushels per acre.

Several factors contributed to the wheat revival, said Chris Hurt, Purdue agricultural economist. He predicted an increase in acreage again this fall.

"One of the things that could motivate farmers to plant wheat this fall is that we had a very good wheat crop in 2003. Yields were extremely good, with record yields in much of the north-central and northern parts of Indiana," Hurt said. "Second, economics look favorable for wheat. On our lower quality soils we would expect stronger wheat returns than corn or soybeans for next year. On average quality soils we see expected returns on single-crop wheat equal to or maybe a little bit better than corn.

"Third, farmers in the southern third of Indiana have the ability to rotate and bring in a double crop of soybeans after a wheat crop, which makes wheat economically favorable. A final advantage to planting wheat is that it is harvested in the summer and generates cash inflow at a time when most producers would like to have some additional family revenues coming in, while spreading machinery use."

Most wheat grown in Indiana is soft red winter wheat. Soft red is used in cookies, cakes and similar products.

Writer: Steve Leer, (765) 494-8415, sleer@purdue.edu

Sources: Ellsworth Christmas, (765) 494-6373, echristmas@purdue.edu

Chris Hurt, (765) 4273, hurtc@purdue.edu

Ag Communications: (765) 494-2722; Beth Forbes, bforbes@aes.purdue.edu; http://www.agriculture.purdue.edu/AgComm/public/agnews/

Related Web sites:
Purdue University Department of Agronomy
Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics


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