How to improve your success with late planted winter wheat

Wheat planting is lagging behind last year’s pace in Michigan. Yields decline at least 1 bushel for every day planting is delayed in October.

One reason Michigan growers were exceptionally successful this past season is that the crop was planted relatively early.  By October 23, about 93 percent of wheat was planted in 2010, whereas this season, only 80 percent is in the ground (Crop Progress, NASS, October 24, 2011)

The 80 percent level suggests that there is still 130,000 acres unplanted, assuming Michigan growers intended to plant some 650,000 acres this fall.

Michigan growers have had reasonably good success with late planted wheat over the past decade. Nevertheless, planting wheat late in the fall does reduce potential yields (in October, yields tend to decline at least 1 bushel for every day planting is delayed) and increases risk to certain types of winter injury such as cold temperature damage and spring heaving. 

The following are some considerations when contemplating planting wheat late in the fall:

  • Increase seeding rates to at least 2.2 million seeds per acre.  On a drill having row spacing of 7.5 inches, this equates to dropping 28 to 30 seeds per foot of row.
  • Use high quality, treated seed of a winter-hardy variety.
  • Adjust planting depth to 0.75 to 1 inch below ground level.
  • Reduce or avoid tillage so that the residue from the previous crop is preserved to lessen the risk of winter injury (based on recommendations from other northern wheat-growing states).
  • Apply an ample supply of nitrogen fertilizer (approximately 20 pounds per acre).
  • Where drills are capable of applying fertilizer within the row, using at least 20 pounds of phosphorus may be helpful when planting late according to the University of Nebraska (CropWatch, Sept 3, 2010).


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