Evaluating Your Wheat Stand

wheatAccording to the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 70% of the winter wheat stands in Ohio were rated good to excellent going into the winter. The other 29% was rated fair and only 1% fell into the poor category. As the winter wheat begins to green-up, farmers need to be aware of the condition of their wheat stands. This time of year marks the start of possible stand losses from heaving, a situation where ground freezing and thawing pushes the plant crowns and roots to the surface. The result of heaving is the desiccation and eventual death of the plants. Another concern is stand loss in fields due to ponding caused by very wet soil conditions and/or poor drainage.

Fields should not be evaluated until completely green from warmer temperatures for at least 10 to 14 days. Stand evaluations will be more accurate when made during weather periods that promote growth. Yield potential is reduced if tiller numbers fall below 25 per square foot after green up.[emember_protected custom_msg=”Full content protected for online subscribers. Purchase a one week subscription from the top menu bar for just $1.99 to read all online content (full access). Longer subscription plans are also available. Subscriptions cover our costs to attend local events; bringing forth Hometown News Coverage to our communities.”]

Farmers can evaluate wheat stands by selecting 10 to 15 spots in the field and count the number of plants per foot of row. A stand with an average of about 12 plants per foot of row may still result in a good population of head-bearing tillers per acre. For those fields with tillers, 15 tillers per square foot is considered minimum for an economic crop. The number of tillers per square foot is equal to the number of tillers in 19.2 inches of 7 inch wide rows or 14.5 inches of 10 inch wide rows. Extension studies have shown that under adequate weather conditions, tillering may compensate for relatively poor initial stand establishment.

If your winter wheat has not started to green-up, you may be wondering if your winter wheat crop survived. To evaluate whether your winter wheat survived, begin by digging up several seedlings across the field and cut them longitudinal or lengthwise with a very sharp knife or a safety razor blade. If the crowns look white to yellow to light green in color, they are healthy and will continue to grow. If you find that the crown has turned tan to brown and is soft, it did not survive the cold weather.

wheatIn addition, you can check whether seedlings will grow by trimming the roots and leaves down to about ¼ to ½ inch above and below the crown. Place these seedlings on a wet paper towel and place the towel in a Ziploc bag or plastic container that can be sealed. Place the container at room temperature and check for re-growth in 24-48 hours. Viable seedlings will show re-growth almost immediately. Stressed wheat will take longer than usual to develop, but as long as the crown is healthy, a stand will establish.

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