Wheat was a superstar for growers in the Upper Southeast this year, with above- average yields and test weights common across the region.

Acreage is expected to increase again as growers get ready to plant the 2012 crop this fall. To continue the upward trend in yields, North Carolina State University Small Grains Specialist Randy Weisz and USDA-ARS Plant Pathologist Christina Cowger agree dialing in the right variety is essential.

Cowger and Weisz go a step beyond Official Variety Tests (OVT) results in recommending wheat varieties for the 2011-2012 crop.

“We use additional tests not available to the OVT, and we sometimes exclude low-yielding locations used in the OVT program,” Weisz says.

The North Carolina researchers also examine variety yield and stability of variety performance across multiple years and multiple regions of the state.

“Above average yielding varieties are always a good place to start, but yield is not the only factor to consider,” Weisz says. Yield should be weighed along with the following criteria, he contends.  

• Avoid spring freeze damage. Early heading varieties are the most susceptible to damage from late spring freezes. “To reduce risk of yield loss to late-season freezes, growers should plant no more than one early or mid-early maturing variety. To further hedge against freeze damage, growers should plant at least one late-heading variety,” Weisz says.

• Pick varieties that will hold up against the typical problems in a particular region. For example, says Cowger, in the Piedmont of North Carolina the most commonly occurring yield robbers are late spring freezes, barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV), and Fusarium head blight (scab). In that region of the state, a high-yielding variety with late maturity and some resistance to scab and BYDV would be ideal. 

In the Tidewater Region of North Carolina, scab is also common, but Hessian fly and wheat soil borne mosaic virus are more likely to create problems than BYDV and spring freeze. 

For the Coastal Plains, an ideal variety would have resistance to powdery mildew, leaf rust, and soil borne mosaic virus. Variety selection should be fine-tuned to the region in question.

Though planting wheat varieties from three different heading date groups is a proven formula for successful yields and quality, some growers simply can’t follow the formula, because they want to plant extra early to beat soybean or cotton harvest.

This spring, heat and lack of soil moisture pushed back planting dates throughout the Upper Southeast. As a result harvest dates for corn and soybeans will be erratic and generally pushed back a week or two in the Carolinas and Virginia.

Some growers will likely take the opportunity of the lull between corn and soybean harvest to plant wheat.

For growers who are planting wheat 10-14 days earlier than recommended, dialing in the right varieties is even more critical to getting profitable results, Weisz says.