I know many of you have a bitter taste in your mouth after dealing with the winter wheat problems we had this past year.  Harvesting trials and tribulations affected by weather, low test weights, vomitoxin, no market for the grain and difficulties in feeding and/or selling it as well as storage problems.  Hopefully we will not see these problems again for a long time.

Winter wheat has always been a major part of the overall farming operations on Missouri farms.  Growing a high yielding and profitable crop will require planning on the part of the grower every year.  The following are some simple steps that may insure your success for the next crop.

Step1   Each producer needs to assess their operation and make plans for a successful crop by selecting the best varieties for your area. A review of several years of data will shows consistent performers. Yield is important but other factors to consider include stand qualities, hardiness, and drought tolerance, as well as insect and disease resistance. Top performers vary from year to year reflecting changing environment, weather, and planting dates. One variety may do well in one part of the state but not in another because of Missouri’s diverse topography. In Hughesville, Adrian and Lamar in southwestern Missouri yield leaders produced a mean average of over 75 bushels per acre. Results from the University Of Missouri Variety Testing trials are available online at

Step 2  Fertility management is also an important part in producing the kinds of yields you are looking for in the future.  Taking a recent soil test to find out what you are starting with as well as what you need to add as inputs will go a long way in a successful crop. The cheapest and most important of these is lime.  If your soil pH range is below 5.5 you will not receive the full benefits of other fertilizers you apply. Wheat being a winter annual grass requires a pH range of 5.5 – 6.0 for maximum growth potential.  Check your  Effective neutralizing material (ENM) requirements, found on your soil test, and match them with the local quarries ENM rating to best balance of your soil.

In the absence of a soil test a middle of the road fertilizer recommendation might include approximately 45 pounds of phosphorus and potassium along with a split application of nitrogen.  On most of our Missouri soils one to one and a quarter pounds of nitrogen is required per bushel yield of production.  For a 60 bushel per acre yield you would apply around 60 to 75 pounds of actual nitrogen per acre.  Applying a 20-45-45 blend in the fall and following it up with 40 – 55 pounds of nitrogen in the spring might work well as an application rate.

Step 3  Planting dates, rates, and methods are important factors when seeding wheat.  To avoid the Hessian Fly, which is found in Missouri, planting of wheat should be after October 15th to insure a good stand.  The Hessian Fly is potentially the most destructive insect in planted wheat. If you plan on planting earlier than this, planning to use it for pasture, bailage, and/ or a cover crop, look for a variety of wheat that is resistant to the Hessian Fly. Planting rates may vary depending on your soil type and location.  Just what is the true potential of your soil to produce?  Drilling rates of a bushel per acre are common while broadcasting may increase the application rate to one and a half bushel per acres.  Good seed to soil contact will increase the potential of seed to survive.

Several farmers have asked if they could plant last year’s wheat seed even though it did not pass the test at the mill. Would it grow? Unknown is the germination level of infected wheat seed, but seed test labs can check it or farmers can do their own “flowerpot test” to determine percent germination, or “rag-doll tests” can be run by putting seeds in a wet cloth rolled up and kept at temperature of fields at planting. A farmer planting bad seed solves two problems: It makes use of worthless seed as well as providing soil cover to prevent erosion.  There should be no problem in reusing last year’s seed for a cover crop if you check it first.

With limitations on land that earns prevented-planting payments, the winter forage can be grazed by livestock, making winter feed. Wheat, rye and oats are popular winter cover crops. They kill easily before planting spring crops, unlike some other covers. Check with USDA NRCS and FSA on those limits on cover crop grazing.


Source: Terry Halleran, Agronomy Specialist