When to "apply your shadow" to the wheat crop
A favorite farming cliché we often hear 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 Field Agronomist Missy Bauer.
"It’s going to take time in the field to learn your wheat," Bauer tells the farmers with whom she consults. "I like working with wheat because it’s very responsive to crop management."
Bauer, independent crop consultant Ronan Cummins and others agree that farmers should take the time to review which scouting techniques their state university Extension recommends.
Once they have the know-how, Bauer says, it’s time to put the practices they’ve studied to the test. At minimum, there are five times that winter wheat farmers absolutely need to be in their fields.
1 Fall. Evaluate your stands as they emerge, plus check for weeds, aphids and other potential problems.
2 Early spring. Check tiller counts and determine the rate and timing for your first nitrogen application.
3 Feekes Stage 5. This is the stage where the grain head is beginning to form on the plant. It’s also the ideal time to evaluate the rate and timing needs of your second nitrogen application.
4 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.
5 Pre-harvest. Farmers should make a final grain head count at this time. "Next year starts with this year," Cummins adds. There are various methods to determine a reliable yield estimate available from your state Extension service.
"Put some extra TLC in your fields, and you’ll be rewarded at harvest," Bauer continues.
"It’s not uncommon to see 8 bu. to 20 bu. yield gains just by putting in a little more time for careful management," she says.
Scouting for disease is an essential part of growing wheat, says Martin Nagelkirk, Extension educator with Michigan State University (MSU). He says disease can destroy 5% to 20% or even more of the crop on an annual basis. But with one disease in particular—fusarium head blight—yield reduction isn’t even the primary concern, he says.
s a quality issue because of the deadly mycotoxin it can create," Nagelkirk says. "It’s always going to be talked about until we solve it."
For now, several management choices can help limit the occurrence of fusarium head blight, including varietal selection, crop rotation and triazole fungicide use (products like Caramba and Prosaro). The frustrating thing is that farmers can’t outright dodge fusarium head blight if the weather doesn’t cooperate, Nagelkirk says. "If the weather wants to take you, it’s going to take you—even if you did everything right," he says.
Farmers can still mitigate some risk as late as harvest time. MSU recommends practices such as separating high scab areas during harvest and increasing combine fan speed to blow the lighter disease-ridden kernels out the back of the combine. Farmers should keep good records on varietal susceptibilities, fungicide usage, field history and crop conditions.
You can e-mail Ben Potter at email@example.com.