Wheat acreage is up across the Southeast and prospects for 2009 look good. Choosing the right variety is the first step in allowing growers to put together the best yield and quality for future wheat crops.

Virginia Tech Small Grains Breeder Carl Griffey says growers in the upper Southeast have plenty of varieties from which to choose, picking the one best suited to farming practices, soil type and rotation with other crops are critical factors.

In addition to currently available varieties, several new wheat cultivars from Griffey's research program have either just been released or are near a release date. The infusion of even more varieties from which to choose will give growers many planting options for years to come.

Griffey says yield is a critical factor as are heading dates, fusarium head blight and other disease reistance qualities.

In 2007, heading date in Virginia wheat variety trials spread over only eight days, from April 30 to May 7. Jamestown was the earliest heading variety and Coker 9436 was the latest. Yields varied from 70 to 92 bushels per acre.

One of the top varieties in the 2007 test was Virginia 03W235, from Griffey's breeding program. It was approved for release this year. Some seed has been released to growers, so seed won't be in abundant supply for a couple of years. VA 03W235 had a yield of 85 bushels per acre, with test average of 81 pounds.

VA 03W409 is a new variety approved for release in 2008. It headed on May 6, yielded 89 bushels per acre, with a powdery mildew rating of zero. The late maturity, high yielding qualities and good disease resistance make this a very promising, late heading variety for the future for Virginia growers.

VA 04W205 is another new release from Griffey's program. About 40 acres were grown this year and some seed should be available for growers for the 2008 planting season. It headed on May 4 and produced 86 bushels per acre with good disease resistance.

VA03W434 was also approved for release this year. The Virginia Crop Improvement Association has 40 acres of seed to be given to seedsmen in the fall of 2008. It is better than average on scab and had an average yield of 81 bushels per acre and headed on May 6.

VA 05W250 is another new, experimental line that produced high yields (87 bushels per acre), but showed enough mildew damage to warrant some concern, according to Griffey. VA 05W250 headed on May 6, but was only average on fusarium head blight resistance, he says.

VA04W259 headed on May 6, with 87 bushels per acre. It showed some serious fusarium problems and may not be acceptable, despite other positive qualities.

VA 05W258 headed on May 4, with an average yield of 91 bushels per acre. It is a promising experimental line, with high yields, but some limited disease resistance that may make it susceptible to some growing conditions, according to Griffey.

VA 05W436 is an experimental line out of Griffey's scab resistance program. It headed on May 4, with 84 bushels per acre yield.

VA 05W414 is another experimental line. It yielded 90 bushels per acre, but it had above average fusarium problems. “This is a good looking variety, but the fusarium ratings are higher than I like to see, so we will have to continue looking at for a while,” Griffey says. The experimental variety headed on May 6, giving it good late heading yield potential.

VA 257 is an experimental line that headed on May 5 and produced 89 bushels per acre. It had good disease resistance and will be further evaluated for future release.

Chesapeake is another experimental variety out of the University of Maryland breeding program. It headed on May 4, with 81 bushels per acre yield.

USG 3555 was released last year. It is a cross with USG 3209 and may be intended to replace the older variety. It headed on May 2 and produced 86 bushels per acre. It is a day earlier than USG 3209. USG 3555 had a powdery mildew rating of 2 and a fusarium head blight rating of 15.

These experimental varieties were compared to USG 3665 which headed on May 5, with an average yield of 92 bushels per acre — the highest yielding variety in the state tests last year.

“It is always good to spread maturity out as long as possible to take advantage of the best harvesting conditions. Using early, mid and late-season heading varieties just makes good production sense — spreads out the risk,” Griffey says.

In statewide tests, Coker 9436 proved to be a good late season variety. It headed on May 7, and produced 70 bushels per acre. Despite the lower than average yield, good disease resistance and the flexibility of harvesting later in some operations, makes this a desirable late season variety, according to the Virginia Tech plant breeder.

Tribute on the other hand headed out on May 3, making it one of many mid-maturing varieties in the statewide test. It yielded 84 bushels per acre with good overall disease resistance, but has consistently shown good fusarium head blight resistance. Griffey notes that Tribute will be used to try and determine the genetic source of this resistance in hopes of using it in subsequent varieties.

The Virginia Tech wheat breeding program has consistently put new varieties into growers hands and the future looks even better. Over the past eight years, statewide wheat yield averages have climbed at better than 2.8 bushels per acre per year.

Now is the time to plan for fall planting. The first task is to find the right varieties for yield, disease resistance and those that mature at the right time to fit in with other cropping practices that occur during wheat harvesting season.