A favorite farming cliché is, "The best thing you can apply to your field is your shadow." That’s true for any crop, but it’s especially true for wheat, says Farm Journal associate agronomist Missy Bauer.
"It’s going to take time in the field to learn your wheat," Bauer told a group of about 100 wheat farmers at the 2013 Farm Journal Michigan Wheat College. "I like working with wheat because it’s very responsive to management."
Farmers who attended the event, held June 25 at the MSU Crop and Soil Science Research Farm in Lansing, Mich., received valuable crop scouting advice from Bauer, independent crop consultant Ronan Cummins and others, before practicing scouting techniques themselves. Bauer says at minimum, there are five times winter wheat farmers absolutely need to be in their fields.
- Fall – evaluate your stands, plus check for weeds, aphids and other potential problems.
- Early spring – check tiller counts, and evaluate the rate and timing needs for your first nitrogen application.
- Feekes Stage 5 - this is the stage where the grain head is beginning to form. It’s also the ideal time to evaluate rate and timing needs of your second nitrogen application.
- Flag leaf – the flag leaf is a critical part of the wheat plant, providing much of the horsepower needed to fuel grain growth. You should scout for foliar diseases at this growth stage.
- Pre-harvest – farmers should make a final grain head count at this time. "Next year starts with this year," as Cummins puts it. There are various methods of determining a reliable yield estimate available online.
Put some extra TLC in your fields, and you’ll be rewarded at harvest, Bauer says.
"It’s not uncommon to see 8 to 20 bu. yield gains just by putting in more time for careful management," she says.