Wheat: What to Do?

— Written By Curtis Fountain and last updated by
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Duplin County wheat has experienced significant periods of wet, saturated soils and extremely cold temperatures. These environmental conditions have resulted in poor growth for much of the crop. In most cases the later the wheat was planted, the poorer the growth.

Wheat fields should be evaluated NOW for 3-leaf tillers per square foot. The following videos describe this process. For 7.5 inch drill row spacings, 19 inches of row length (1 drill row) equals 1 square foot.

Watch the video Counting Tillers to Optimize Spring Nitrogen Rates & Timing by Dr. Randy Weisz, retired NCSU Extension Wheat Specialist.

Watch the video Spring Nitrogen Application for Wheat by Jacob Morgan, Jones/Lenoir Counties Extension Field Crops Agent.

Wheat fields with 50+ 3-leaf tillers per square foot (now)
Do not apply topdress nitrogen until Growth Stage 30 (early March).

Wheat fields with 30-49 3-leaf tillers per square foot (now)
Split the topdress nitrogen application. Apply approximately 1/2 now and approximately 1/2 at Growth Stage 30 (early March).

Wheat fields with less than 30 3-leaf tillers per square foot (now)
This is the “tough decision” group. Consider potential input costs (from this point forward) versus potential income. At Growth Stage 30 (early March), tiller production stops and stem elongation begins. Will Duplin County experience favorable weather (55+ degrees F daytime temperatures/40+ degrees F nighttime temperatures/adequate but not excessive moisture) for the next 4-5 weeks to promote additional tillering?

Assume each 3-leaf tiller at Growth Stage 30 (early March – not now) will produce a seed head. Assume 25 kernels per seed head. Assume 12,000 kernels (seeds) per pound. With these assumptions, 20 heads per square foot would translate to 30 bushels/acre wheat. With these assumptions, 30 heads per square foot would translate to 45 bushels/acre wheat. With these assumptions, 40 heads per square foot would translate to 60 bushels/acre wheat.

If you feel February-early March weather will promote additional tillering and Growth Stage 30 tiller counts will result in profitable yields, split the topdress nitrogen application for this wheat as well.

If you feel February-early March weather will not promote additional tillering and/or Growth Stage 30 tiller counts will result in unprofitable yields, consider abandoning the crop now. Utilize the wheat as a cover crop. If the wheat is insured, contact your insurance provider before making this decision. If the wheat is abandoned, notify your FSA Office.

Please call if you have questions.

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