As we all anticipate the end of winter and the breaking of dormancy of many plants, we also approach an important management period for wheat.
Although wheat is not a crop that comprises a lot of acres in Whitley County compared to corn or soybeans (about 7,000 acres at last count), comparatively with other Indiana counties, we have consistently ranked in the top 10 in wheat production in recent years (fifth in 2017, and eighth in both 2016 and 2015). For some, it is an important component of crop rotations. For others, it may be that the harvest of wheat straw for animal bedding is important.
For non-farm readers, the type of wheat we grow in Indiana is soft red winter wheat. We plant this wheat in the fall and harvest the following year around the Fourth of July. This wheat does not go into making bread, as some might think. According to USDA Economic Research Service, flour produced from milling SRW wheat is used in the United States for cakes, cookies and crackers. Wheat can also be used for livestock feed.
Purdue Extension experts have authored a publication entitled, “Managing Wheat by Growth Stage.” In it, they describe the various growth stages of wheat (Feekes scale), which I will edit down to basic terms for the purpose of this article.
• Feekes 1: Emergence
• Feekes 2-3: Tillering (production of axillary or side shoots)
• Feekes 4-5: Green Up
• Feekes 6: Jointing (first visible node at base of shoot)
• Feekes 7-8: Two nodes and flag leaf
• Feekes 9-11: Boot Stage, Flowering and Maturity
“Tillering may begin in the fall and not be complete until the following spring,” the Purdue experts said.
The authors said that Feekes growth stage 2-3 is when early nitrogen applications should be applied to enhance tillering in thin stands. Fall nitrogen application of 20-30 pounds per acre is sufficient for developing fall tillers. “Spring tillering in thin stands can be encouraged by applying 30-50 pounds per acre at dormancy break with the balance of spring topdress nitrogen applied at Feekes 5,” they said.
“Feekes growth stage 4-5 is an optimal time to make spring topdress nitrogen applications and to apply post-emergent herbicides for weed control,” they said. “Feekes growth stage 4-5 also is an important time to scout for soilborne virus diseases and early-season foliar diseases such as powdery mildew and leaf blotch.”
The authors stated that Feekes 6 is a good time to cut-off certain herbicides; it is also a good time to cut-off nitrogen applications to prevent injury.
Later on, when wheat plants begin to flower, is the optimum time to apply fungicide to suppress Fusarium head blight (scab), according to the authors. An online risk assessment tool will be available at: wheatscab.psu.edu/riskTool_2019.htm.
To access the full publication referenced above, go to Purdue Extension’s Education Store, edustore.purdue.edu, and search for “Managing Wheat by Growth Stage.”
Fertilizer recommendations can be obtained from “Tri-State Fertilizer Recommendations for Corn, Soybeans, Wheat & Alfalfa,” (Purdue Extension publication AY-9-32-W), available at the Education Store.
Weed control recommendations can be obtained from “The Weed Control Guide for Ohio, Indiana and Illinois,” (Purdue Extension publication WS-16-W), also available from the Education Store.