Soft red winter wheat has taken a beating here in the upper Southeast during the fall and winter of 2009-2010.

Cold, wet conditions at planting reduced emergence. Cooler than normal temperatures throughout the fall and winter have reduced tillering.

Yield potential for this year’s wheat crop has been reduced and some growers are considering abandoning their wheat and moving acreage to cotton or full-season soybeans.

(For a good look at weather damage to this year’s wheat crop in the upper Southeast please visit http://southeastfarmpress.com/grains/weather-wheat-0211/index.html). The often asked question is: “How do I decide whether to abandon my wheat crop and what should I do if I make that decision?”

When abandoning a wheat field, or any crop, one of the biggest concerns is crop insurance. Growers need to understand how abandoning a wheat field affects insurance coverage during the current year and coverage levels during the years that follow.

Crop insurance companies will provide adjusters for growers planning on abandoning insured wheat fields. The adjusters will make yield estimates of the acreage to be removed from production. The total bushels that could have been made on this acreage will be added to the actual number of bushels produced to determine eligibility for compensation at the end of the season. Growers can elect to remove whole fields or portions of fields through this procedure.

Crop insurance coverage levels depend in part on established yields. Growers with higher yields can insure future crops at higher levels of coverage. Removing low yielding areas of production before FSA certification deadlines helps maintain higher average yields.

Crop insurance adjusters will base their yield estimates primarily on stand counts. Growers should check not only stand counts, but tiller counts.

Tillering has been greatly reduced in most of our region due to the cold and wet winter. While tiller counts are normally used to determine when to apply nitrogen and how much to apply, they also can give some indication of yield potential.

Spring tillers generally produce smaller heads than fall tillers. Virginia Tech recommends applying 60 pounds of spring nitrogen on the first application of a split when tiller counts are 40 to 60 per square foot. Fields with tiller counts of 30 or below at Growth Stage 25 have very little chance of achieving a final tiller count of 70 per square foot.

Final tiller counts below 70 are unlikely to produce profitable yields. These fields may also require more total spring nitrogen, so the potential for profit drops dramatically.

Fields with acceptable stands and tiller counts at Growth Stage 25 have maintained most of their yield potential, but several challenges remain. Wet areas of the field that may be inaccessible for timely nitrogen applications could see yield reductions of 35 percent as compared to the rest of the field. Again, in the interest of maintaining a high yield history, it may be best to take these areas out of wheat production and report the change in acreage immediately.

Whole fields that are too wet for timely nitrogen applications in the spring should also be considered to have lower yield potential as growers decide which ones to keep or abandon.