In my experience the farmers who start with a detailed crop management plan are the ones who set themselves up for success at harvest. The core of this planning process includes selecting high-yielding varieties that are proven to perform across your soils and with your rainfall and management style.
What is a successful variety for one producer might not be a good one for another a few miles away, so it’s critical to establish which ones are best for you. Most seed companies allow farmers to evaluate new varieties ahead of commercial release, so while it takes time to clean out the drill, it helps compare yields alongside existing lines. It allows us to look at the overall agronomic package, such as standability and disease resistance.
Once you find varieties that offer the desired performance, get your name in the hat early to take advantage of this elite germplasm. Most of my clients plant at least three to four wheat varieties across their farm, proven in on-farm trials to produce the highest and most consistent yields.
I also encourage producers to select varieties from the early, medium and later maturity groups. Usually it takes seven to 10 days to harvest a crop, so by the time the early varieties are harvested, the medium ones are ready, finishing with the later maturities.
Select different maturities to help reduce the impact of spring freeze injury, which seems to be a one-in-five-year event in most winter wheat regions. Planting different maturity groups helps because the earliest varieties break dormancy first and sustain the most freeze damage.
Good strategies. Once you’ve ordered high-yielding varieties, treat them at a minimum with a fungicide seed treatment, especially in no-till conditions. For regions with heavy fusarium head blight (scab) pressure, select a treatment that offers the best seed-borne control. If you plant wheat early, especially if you have had a history of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus (vectored by aphids), target these acres for a seed treatment insecticide because the seeding rates are lowest with early planting dates.
Lastly, be sure all seeds are uniformly covered with the seed treatment. This is best accomplished with a larger barrel style treater, rather than just treating through an auger.
A bumper wheat crop includes choosing high-yielding varieties with good fusarium head blight (scab) resistance, especially if no-tilling into cornstalks.
Whether you’re a no-till or conventional wheat producer, adjust the combine tailboard during harvest to help evenly distribute residue across the header width. I often see alternating heavy and light bands of residue across fields, which causes uneven emergence. To get the best standard of residue spreading, select a head no wider than the combine’s ability to spread residue, which is often 35' to 40' on the newer larger combines.
When it comes to seeding wheat, uniform seeding depth and seed placement in the row won’t be achieved with a worn-out seeder. In no-till especially, make sure the drill has adequate ballast for the conditions. Too many producers struggle to achieve consistent seed placement in harder soils and/or heavy residue.
Lastly, be sure the drill is calibrated to sow the correct population based on soil conditions, variety and planting date. This is especially important when sowing varieties with different seed counts per pound or different seed treatments because both of these factors can have a huge impact on the rate of seed metered.