Broadcasting wheat seed with fertilizer is the only way to go on my farm, says 2012 North Carolina Wheat Yield Champion Allen Weeks.

Weeks won the North Carolina Wheat Yield Competition last year with 119 bushels per acre. On his total wheat acreage, he averaged about 90 bushels per acre, which is higher than the target yield he shoots for each year.

The North Carolina grower has been farming much of the same land for 38 years and is currently farming more than a thousand acres of primarily grain crops.

“I try to split it up into about a third in corn, a third in wheat and a third in new beans. He also grows cabbage and soybeans behind wheat,” he says.

Fall weather is often the limiting factor in how many acres of wheat he plants. The heavy soils of northeast North Carolina tend to get wet and stay wet in the fall and that sometimes determines whether you get all the wheat planted you want to plant, he says.

The 2011 fall planting season was virtually perfect, allowing Weeks to plant all his wheat. “Then, the problem is having the time, when the weather is right to plant, because we’re usually in the middle of harvesting soybeans,” he adds.

The combination of good prices for wheat and beans is a big incentive to get both crops planted and harvested efficiently. Jumping through the window when the window is open has been a problem in the past, the North Carolina grower admits. His long-time Extension Ag Agent Al Wood agrees.

“Wheat more so than any other crop we plant in eastern North Carolina is affected by planting time weather,” says Wood. “In years like last year, we had good planting time weather in the fall, and the crop was good from start to harvest. In past years, fall weather hasn’t been nearly so good,” Wood says.

Wood, who has worked with Weeks since he first started broadcasting wheat three years ago, says the practice has to be done right, or it can be a disaster. For anyone thinking about taking this approach this fall, they better be sure the applicator knows how to blend the seed and fertilizer and that the applicator applies the blend in an over-lap pattern that insures a good stand, Wood cautions.

Was a big switch

Three years ago, when Weeks made the decision to broadcast his wheat crop, it was a big switch from the way we had always planted the crop. “The first year, there was some real concern, but it worked out well and we’re about to plant our third crop using this same strategy,” he says.

“Broadcasting wheat is faster than using a conventional grain drill. I use a pre-plant fertilizer to get tillers up and growing, and it works out well to blend the seed with the fertilizer, so I don’t have any extra passes across the field,” he says.

In eastern North Carolina, fall weather can get cool and wet and staying ahead of the weather with wheat is critical.  “Broadcasting allows us to better stay ahead of weather during that critical period of time in the fall,” he adds.

All his land is in conventional-tillage. He begins with two diskings to get rid of all the corn stalks — he plants almost all his wheat behind corn. “I plant my corn on 20-inch rows, and we get a lot of residue, so we usually have to go over the land a second time to get all the corn stalks turned under,” he says.

After that, a custom applicator uses a spreader truck to apply wheat blended with a combination N, P, and K fertilizer, based on soil samples. Last year he used 236 pounds per acre of a 12-10-31 fertilizer on his yield winning wheat crop.

The extra nitrogen in his starter fertilizer also helps get the wheat plants up quickly and allows them to produce more tillers early in the fall. He explains that the early fall tillers tend to make a better grain head, which is a key to making high yields with wheat in North Carolina.

He says three factors played a role in increasing his overall wheat yield and helped him win the state yield championship.

The variety, Dyna-Gro Shirley, really seems to work well on my farm, he says. “We also had good weather in the fall and we were able to get our wheat planted quickly with the broadcast system, and we had such a good winter growing season, we cut back some on our liquid nitrogen in the spring.

“Our wheat was so lush and green in March, I was afraid to put much nitrogen on it — I was afraid I would burn it.

“Carryover nitrogen from the previous year, which was plagued by drought conditions, also provided some extra nutrients, so it worked out well for us to cut back on it last spring,” Weeks says.

One of the warmest winters on record in eastern North Carolina did cause some problems for some growers and came really close to affecting all the wheat grown in the area, says Wood.

Headed out early

“Allen’s wheat headed out a couple of weeks early as did all the crop in our area. We got some cold weather at the end of March, and it came within a degree or two of really causing some major problems, but most of our growers got by without any significant damage or yield loss,” Wood recalls.

In March, Weeks came back with a top-dress application of 26-0-0, plus 3 percent sulfur on his wheat, and even that lower than usual rate of nitrogen was a concern, he says. The extra sulfur is something new, but with less of it available from the atmosphere, it can be a limiting factor in overall production in some areas of the country.

“We had plenty of fields in the county with more than 100 tillers per square foot, which is considerably more than Randy Weisz (North Carolina State University Extension Wheat Specialist) recommends. Supposedly, every tiller per square foot means a bushel of wheat,” Wood says.

Other than some weed pressure, most notably wild onions, which he managed with Harmony Extra and an application of Quilt for disease control, last year’s wheat crop required little attention. Though there weren’t any significant disease issues, Weeks says he feels he always gets a good return on his money from using a fungicide on wheat.

A key to getting broadcast wheat to come up uniformly, Weeks says, is to come back and ‘wrap up’ the wheat seed. “I set my DynaDrive on minimum depth (2-3 inches), which fluffs the soil and seems to cover the seed, without getting it too shallow or too deep in the soil, the North Carolina grower says.

To insure a good stand, he goes with 200 pounds of seed per acre, and later in the season may go as high as 220 pounds per acre. That’s about 25 percent higher than seeding rates used when wheat is planted with a grain drill.

Wood says in some years growers can get by with using the same seeding rate with broadcast planting versus conventional planting, but that’s risky.

Weeks says the broadcast wheat came up much better than he expected the first two years he did it. “If you get it broadcast right, and use an overlap pattern, you need the extra seed and that’s good insurance for getting a good stand,” he adds.

“If it’s done right, I don’t see any difference in yield between broadcast and conventional planting,” Wood says. “But if you don’t get it right and do special things like splitting the track for an overlap, you can get a mess,” he adds.

rroberson@farmpress.com