Ronnie Lumpkins has a bit of a management dilemma: how to manage a wheat crop that emerged in two distinct phases; about half came up shortly after a late October planting; the rest after a combination of late December rain and snow provided enough moisture for seed to germinate.
Lumpkins, a Fannin County, Texas, grain producer, says the various stages of growth makes management difficult, but he’s convinced that having adequate nitrogen available to that new growth will be essential to “jump start it.”
He intends to apply liquid nitrogen as soon as the soil dries out enough to get a sprayer in the field. “Liquid fertilizer will be immediately available,” he says.
Fields near Lumpkins’ Leonard, Texas, home show some wheat up to a decent stand and tillering nicely. And some, in the same field, has just emerged and stands about 2 inches out of the ground. Planting depth, he says, is the difference.
“The crop is up and down. About 75 percent of it is okay. We have problem on about 25 percent of it.”
He said other farmers in the area have varying levels of crop stands.
“We only have two or two-and-half months for this wheat to tiller,” says James Swart, area Texas AgriLife Extension IPM agent. “If we had this stand in November, we would see no problems.”
Lumpkins says some of his late-emerging wheat may produce no more than 60 percent of a crop. “So, we’re looking at some yield loss. But I think vernalization will be okay.”
Swart has never seen wheat emerge with “two distinct wheat crops. I don’t know how much tillering will compensate for stand loss,” he says. “Farmers can do okay with $8 wheat and 50 bushels per acre, but at 40 bushels per acre it will be dicey.”
Lumpkins has less wheat than he did last year. “I’ll plant a lot of corn this spring,” he says. “I had a lot of wheat last year, and I need to plant corn for rotation.”
He doesn’t anticipate having to abandon much wheat and replant to corn. “I think most of the wheat will be okay. About 50 percent came up on time; the rest did not emerge until the Christmas moisture brought it up.”
Deep root system
The wheat that emerged early “was struggling a lot. But it has a deep root system and has tillered well,” Lumpkins notes. “We also had some problems with frost-damaged wheat but that seems to have recovered. I’m concerned about the late-emerged wheat tillering, so we need to have nitrogen available.”
The area received about 2 inches of snow Jan. 15. “From Oct. 20 through Dec. 25, we had just over 1 inch of rain,” he says. “We got 2.5 inches in late December and then another 1.5 inch and about 5 inches of snow. We probably have received 5 inches of moisture since Christmas.”
He says pastures remain sparse, even after planting no-till wheat in some areas.
The situation is similar across the state, says Travis Miller, Texas AgriLife Associate Department Head and Extension Program Leader for Soil and Crop Sciences.
“We’ve had quite a few calls from farmers with part of a stand.”
Most of the state has received some rain but West Texas has gotten very little. “We had a lot of good stands in West Texas,” Miller says, “but a lot was about to die before the latest rainfall. Many had rain between Sept. 26 and Sept. 29, but some farmers were not prepared to plant, so they plowed again and lost a lot of moisture. We don’t have good stands in much of the state, but some farmers had good stands where they got rain.”
He says the Blacklands has received from 3 inches to 6 inches of rain in December and January. “That makes a difference, especially with the 6-inch totals. That helps recharge the soil profile; it doesn’t completely refill the soil profile but it will provide planting moisture down to about 18 inches.
“The High Plains remains dry,” Miller says. ‘It was awful dry until last month and then most of the area got very little moisture, not nearly as much as the Blacklands and northeast Texas.”
Oklahoma is faring no better, says Oklahoma State University Extension wheat specialist Jeff Edwards.
“We have a lot of wheat that is just barely poking through,” Edwards says. “The primary problem with late emergence and erratic stands is how to manage them effectively. A late emerging stand of wheat can still have potential IF everything goes right the rest of the season.”
Deciding whether to continue to add inputs is a big question. “Investing additional money in the crop might be warranted,” Edwards says, “but it is more of a gamble than usual.
“The problem with erratic stands is how to manage the field effectively,” he says. “Do you manage for the areas that look okay, or do you manage for the thin spots? Growers need to walk the whole field and evaluate the overall stand and make decisions based on the majority of the field.”
Even with recent moisture, Edwards says a lot of damage has already been done. “I think the recent rains were too little too late for the early-sown wheat that had gone backwards.”