With each bump in price, wheat becomes an ever more valuable addition to the Southeast crop mix.

So this year, more than ever, variety selection and planting date are vital for insuring top yields next spring.

Planting the right variety at the right time best insures that wheat flowers at the optimal time, namely when the risk for freeze damage is at its lowest but before the onslaught of heat stress, says Brenda Ortiz, Auburn University Extension specialist.

“The key to maximizing wheat yields rides on two related decisions: choosing the right variety and planting it at the right time to ensure optimal flowering and, ultimately, maximum yield,” says Ortiz.

The problem with variety selection and planting is that there are no “hard-and-fast” rules, she says. Both decisions are essentially a compromise with Mother Nature. Opting to plant early can improve crop establishment but can also cause early flowering, which increases the risk of frost damage.

Early planted wheat is also more prone to insect pests, such as the Hessian fly and the fall armyworm and diseases such as barley yellow dwarf.

“An added challenge in the Southeast is that wheat planting dates are closely tied to the harvest of summer crops such as cotton and soybeans,” says Ortiz. “Delayed harvest of these summer crops due to wet soil conditions may force producers to plant wheat later than preferred, increasing the likelihood that flowering will occur in hot, dry conditions.

“The end results are likely to be reduced yields and test weights.”

Much remains to be learned, she says, about the effects of variety and planting dates on wheat yields and related issues.

Between 2009 and 2012, researchers in Alabama conducted studies at various locations throughout the state to better understand how these decisions, coupled with seasonal climate variability, affect wheat growth and yield.

Research has shown that winter wheat growth is reduced when average fall/winter temperatures drop below 50 degrees F., say Ortiz. Wheat may even become dormant to protect itself from cold injury.