All the cards seem lined up in the Southeast for plenty of early wheat and perhaps a record number of double-crop soybean acres in the region.
How many acres of wheat were planted in the Southeast last fall and how many acres of double-crop soybeans will go in the spring and summer is directly related to how many acres of corn were planted early or on time and harvested early or on time last year.
Most growers in the Upper Southeast had a good year with corn. They planted on time and generally got their crop harvested early.
In the Carolinas and Virginia, it was clear by September that the potential for a big wheat crop was there. In North Carolina, for example, the 2012-13 wheat crop could come close to a million acres, according to veteran crop watcher and Executive Director of the North Carolina Small Grains Association, Dan Weathington.
Randy Weisz in North Carolina, Wade Thomason in Virginia and David Gunter in South Carolina have done an outstanding job of stressing to growers the many benefits of planting wheat on time, but not too early in the Southeast, and it appears a majority of growers did just that.
While many growers could have planted wheat in time for an early spring harvest, the risks are too great.
When wheat is planted early in the Upper Southeast, historically, it has been a great risk from frost and freeze damage during the time the crop is in its most vulnerable growth stage for winter damage.
So far, winter weather in the region has been near ideal for early wheat growth, which, if Mother Nature comes through, should mean a timely wheat harvest this spring.
Perhaps more importantly, nothing on the global horizon indicates markets will be anything other than good for corn, wheat and soybeans. If prices remain stable, a wheat-soybean double-crop will have the potential to rival corn for profitability.
Factored into the equation is the dogged determination of the livestock industry in the region to help growers produce more grain for livestock feed. Demand is never a bad thing when it comes to off-setting the risks involved with growing any crop.
With those cards on the table, it appears things are set for a record or near record double-crop with wheat and soybeans.
Nothing growers can do
There’s nothing growers can do at this point about the corn part of the equation, but getting the most yield and most profit out of their double-crop beans is going to be directly related to how well they manage their wheat crop.
Most of the fertilization strategy has already been carried out on wheat, but there is an important spring application that growers shouldn’t miss, according Randy Weisz, small grains specialist at North Carolina State University.
Nitrogen management is one of the most important keys to successful small grain production. It is also one of the easiest management strategies to misuse, resulting in yield reductions and environmental damage.
“To achieve optimum yields, follow the correct nitrogen guidelines for applications in the fall, winter, late January to early February, and at Growth Stage 30, which usually occurs in March in the Upper Southeast,” Weisz says.
“If at the end of January or in the first week of February, wheat looks thick and green, it is likely well on its way to producing a high yielding crop.
“Wheat in this category should have about 100 well-developed tillers per square foot and should not have any nitrogen applied until Growth Stage 30, again sometime in March,” he adds.
Getting wheat planted on time and keeping it growing and healthy until springtime is an ongoing challenge.
Last year’s record warm winter created myriad problems for wheat and set the crop up for some significant yield losses from two freezes that hit the area in April.
The warm winter weather was also one of the reasons for outbreaks of wheat diseases, some of which don’t usually occur in the region. In general, the formula for high yields on wheat in the Southeast is: Resistance plus fungicides equals yield.
Finding the right balance between planting a wheat variety with resistance to multiple diseases and one with highest yield potential is an ongoing challenge.
The best balance between the two is fungicides. The use of these materials in wheat has grown exponentially with the rising value of the crop.
The first key to maximizing fungicide efficacy and value on wheat is to know the diseases that commonly infect the crop.
Growers have three basic options of fungicides: triazoles, strobilurins and a combination of the two. Some work on some diseases and not on others and some are simply not labeled for all the diseases that annually plague wheat in the Upper Southeast.
Head scab, or more technically correct, fusarium head blight, can be one of the most devastating diseases of wheat.
Loss of test weight
Loss of test weights are a problem for millers and contamination of the grain reduces yield, producing a double loss for growers.
It is critical to know that of the three fungicide family options, only triazole fungicides are effective and labeled for use on fusarium head blight in wheat.
Several strains of rust and powdery mildew are also frequent problems for growers, and they require different fungicides or combinations of fungicides from one disease to another.
The key is to know which disease is causing the problem, or most likely to cause the problem, and to use the optimum fungicide available.
Even knowing wheat diseases doesn’t always provide a clear cut choice for fungicides.
If leaf rust and scab occur, it’s likely to come down to which is worse and how the weather will increase or decrease the chances the disease will be severe enough to cause yield loss, because the best fungicide for each disease is different.
If powdery mildew is the primary disease threat, Weisz says the options are little more clear. Fungicides should be applied when powdery mildew covers 5 percent of the upper leaves and leaf rust covers 1 percent.
The North Carolina State specialist says growers should consult one of several websites with information on disease management to choose the fungicide best suited to their particular combination of disease pressure.
In tests in North Carolina last year, Weisz found that timing preventative fungicides is critical to success.
In general, in fields with high disease pressure, Twinline or Quilt applied at top-dress time were not much better than the yields from check plots.
On the other hand, if either of these materials was applied at the flag leaf stage, both produced nearly 20 bushels per acre higher than the check plots.
In areas with low disease pressure the same results were evident, but the yield gains were significantly less.
Getting the wheat crop up and healthy in the spring will give growers the best opportunity to get the crop out in a timely matter, make the best possible profit, and allow them time to get the land ready for soybean planting.
Yield losses from delaying planting date of soybeans is well documented in the Southeast.
However, Virginia Tech Soybean Specialist David Holshouser says in some cases last year, he saw better yields on later planted beans, because the late summer weather pattern was more conducive for flowering and seed development.
Getting it all right could mean a winning hand for Southeast growers.