Evaluating and determining if wheat stands should be destroyed and planted to another crop.

If winter wheat stands are variable due to the dry conditions experienced in the fall and the timing of planting, growers should assess the stand to determine if it is viable. Counts should occur around March 1 in the southern Corn Belt and around March 20 to April 1 in the central and northern Corn Belt regions. These dates are approximate and allow for the development of early-spring tillers.

Evaluate Your Wheat Stand.1

Winter wheat breaks dormancy after about 10 to 14 days of warmer weather. The stand can vary across the field depending on topography. Winter kill is more likely in higher elevation areas of the field where moisture drains from the soil profile. However, standing water or ice covering plants can also suffocate plants in bottom areas. A stand with 24 or more plants per square foot can be enough to maximize yield potential. If the stand is uniform, yield can be adequate with 15 plants per square foot. Stands less than 12 to 15 plants per square foot should be considered for other uses and potentially terminated. However, in the Great Plains, a uniform stand of 12 plants per square foot can produce an acceptable yield. 

An easy way to determine stand counts is to complete these 3 easy steps:

  1. Count plants in 3 foot of row
  2. Multiply by 4  
  3. Divide by your row width in inches

The ending number provides plants per square foot. This final count is adequate from 12 to 30 plants per square foot, but the higher side of the range would be better. 

Evaluate Tillers.

Lower plant stands can be compensated with a higher tiller count. Tillers are the ancillary stems that branch out from the main stem and form additional heads. Some wheat varieties tiller more than others.  To estimate tiller count, utilize the same steps as above, but count tillers along with main stems. As a guide, 60+ tillers per square foot should be adequate. The chart below provides details on potential yield percentage based on tillers per square foot. 

Plants per square foot

Tillers per square foot

Potential Yield %

30-35

90-105

100

24-28

72-84

100

18-21

54-63

90-95

15-18

45-54

75-80

12-14

36-42

60-70

6-7

18-21

40-50

Figure 1. Wheat yield potential based on plants and tillers per square foot. Table provided by and used with the permission of Dr. Carrie Knott, University of Kentucky. Table adapted from Section 3, Cultural Practices, A Comprehensive Guide to Wheat Management in Kentucky.2 Table appears in Evaluating Winter Wheat Stands after a Tough Winter. Integrated Pest Management. University of Missouri.1

Make a plan.

Once plants and tillers have been counted and observed for health, a decision should be made to continue investing in the wheat crop or re-route to other options. If the decision is to terminate, consider these steps: 

  1. Read the labels for the herbicides applied to the wheat crop for rotational restrictions.
  2. Call your crop insurance agent if the crop is insured. Growers have options for insuring a second crop after the wheat or leaving it uninsured. Insurance policies are different based on the timing of termination for the wheat crop.

Overall, options are available if your wheat stand looks poor or inadequate.  It is key to check herbicide restrictions and crop insurance policies to get your next crop started on the right foot.   

Sources

1Luce, G.A. 2019. Evaluating winter wheat stands after a tough winter. Integrated Pest Management. University of Missouri. https://ipm.missouri.edu/.

2Lee, C., Herbek, J., Bruening, W., Green, J.D., Grove, J., Martin, J.R., Murdock, L., Schwab, G., Van Sanford, D., Hershman, D.E., Johnson, D.W., Townsend, L., McNeill, S., Montross, M., Overhults, D., and Trimble, R. 2009. A comprehensive guide to wheat management in Kentucky. ID-125. Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association. University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Cooperative Extension Service.

Lollato, R., Haag, L., and Lancaster, S. 2020. Options and management strategies for freeze-damaged wheat.  Agronomy eUpdates. Kansas State University. https://eupdate.agronomy.ksu.edu/.

Lancaster, S. 2020. Herbicide carryover considerations when re-cropping damaged wheat. Agronomy eUpdates. Kansas State University. https://eupdate.agronomy.ksu.edu/.

2017. Assessing your winter wheat stand. WestBred®.  
https://www.westbred.com/en-us/agronomy/assessing-your-winter-wheat-stand.html.

Morgan Schmidt

Channel Technical Agronomist

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