With wheat seed prices now up to near $10 per bushel and the price of soft red winter wheat expected to remain high into the 2008 harvest season, the need to plant the best variety has heightened importance.

For growers in the upper Southeast, the good news is that many options are available.

The first step to choosing the optimum variety is still yield potential. For many growers in the Southeast the April 2007 freeze highlighted another critical factor in choosing a winter wheat variety — freeze tolerance.

In general, freeze tolerance is directly correlated to time of heading. In the April 2007 freeze the early heading varieties were severely damaged by cold weather from South Carolina to Virginia. In most cases late heading varieties escaped with minimal damage.

North Carolina State University Small Grain Specialist Randy Weisz says it is not a coincidence that the top yielding wheat varieties in 2007 were late heading ones. These varieties, he notes, were less damaged by the freeze.

Though most springs in the Carolinas and Virginia include a freeze or freezes, the timing of the cold weather more frequently coincides with early heading varieties.

Growers can hedge their weather bet by planting an early and mid and a late heading variety. Late heading varieties generally do better if these are the first ones planted and early heading varieties should be planted last, according to Weisz.

Virginia Tech Small Grain Specialist Wade Thomason recently evaluated a number of wheat varieties in on-farm testing near Charles City, Va. Though top yield isn't always the optimum variety, Thomason agrees with the North Carolina specialists that it is a good starting point.

In Virginia wheat varieties that yielded significantly higher than the statewide mean in 2006 were Southern States 550, Pioneer Brand 26R24, Pioneer Brand 26R15, Southern States MPV 57, Vigoro 9510, USG 3209, Sisson, Southern States 560, and Chesapeake. Sisson and Chesapeake also had mean test weights that were significantly higher than the test average.

The fact that varieties with a wide range in maturity and other characteristics did well this year is promising in that producers have the opportunity to select good varieties to fit different management schemes. Test weights overall were high due to favorable environmental conditions during grain fill.

Dominion is one of the most consistent varieties across the Va Tech tests. It is a few days later maturing than the average of varieties tested. It averaged 93 bushels per acre across the test. Test weight is slightly above average and plant height is slightly below average.

Dominion has really good powdery mildew resistance and above average scab resistance, Thomason points out.

Vigoro 9510 averaged 95 bushels per acre across all small plot tests and has been a consistent performer for several years. It does have more problems handling powdery mildew and some other diseases. This variety also has good early height, which is a process of day length sensitivity, and doesn't joint and won't be nearly so susceptible to early season damage.

Tribute is a long-standing variety that is a full to late season variety. It averaged 92 bushels per acre across all tests in Virginia. It has a genetically high test weight. Tribute has good mildew and leaf rust resistance and better than average scab resistance. It averaged 33 inches in plant height across all the Virginia tests, resulting in very little damage from lodging.

Coker 9511 averaged 84 bushels per acre, but has above average test weights for early season varieties. It tends to get more powdery mildew than other varieties, but is among the best for barley yellow dwarf disease. It is another variety that has good early season growth, making it a good choice to avoid early season damage.

Coker 9553 is slightly taller than average wheat varieties and averaged 88 bushels per acre across all tests in Virginia. It does get tall early in the season and heads and joints early, so may not be a good early season variety.

Coker 9184 averaged 86 bushels per acre with above average test weights. It is a full to late season variety. It is good on leaf rust, but not so good on powdery mildew. It is daylight sensitive and has good early growth and delayed heading, so is a good choice for early season planting.

Pioneer 26R15 averaged 95 bushels per acre with good test weights. It is a full season variety that is about average in height. It has good powdery mildew, leaf rust and barly yellow dwarf disease tolerance.

Pioneer 26R31 also averaged 95 bushels per acre, and its 26 day heading date, pushed it just past the mean of all varieties tested in Virginia. It has good disease resistance and few lodging problems.

Pioneer 26R12 was released in 2005. It is a medium maturity variety with medium plant height. Head density is mid-dense, head shape is tapering, and head color is tan at maturity. The variety is resistant to leaf rust, powdery mildew, and Septoria. It is tolerant to Hessian fly race E.

Pioneer 26R31 was released in 2005. It is a medium maturity wheat variety. with medium plant height and an oblong head shape. Plant height is medium.

Coker 9436 was released in 2005. It has a medium maturity date and is medium to short in growth height. It is moderately susceptible to powdery mildew, leaf rust and soilborne mosaic virus.

Sisson is a high yielding, early maturing line that averaged 94 bushels per acre. It is slightly shorter than average, but still has some lodging issues. It doesn't have good leaf rust tolerance, and is a variety that may need to be sprayed if leaf rust develops.

USG3342 is a shorter than average variety that doesn't lodge much at all. It is more susceptible to leaf rust and barley yellow dwarf than some other varieties in the test.

USG65 averaged 93 bushels per acre and had average test weights. It is slightly higher than other varieties, but has good early height and may be a good choice to plant early in the season.

USG3209 averaged 94 bushels per acre in 2006 and is the second highest yielding variety over the past three years. It has been around a few years and has developed some sensitivity to leaf rust. This variety doesn't have good early growth and is one that is prone to getting damaged by spring freezes.

USG 3706 produced 89 bushels per acre with above average test weights. It is an average season variety, with good disease resistance and good early height. Scab resistance is moderate at best.

USG 3260 has the lowest scab index reading of all the varieties tested. It is a slightly above average height and above average lodging. It averaged 86 bushels per acre with above average test weights.

Southern States 8302 has been a good yielding variety over the past few years. It is taller than average and a late season variety. It produced 93 bushels per acre last year and had good test weights. It does get powdery mildew and barley yellow dwarf and will likely need to be treated with a fungicide, if disease- producing conditions are right.

Southern States 8309 also produced 93 bushels per acre. It does not have lodging problems, though it is slightly taller than average. It is susceptible to powdery mildew, but has good to moderate scab resistance.

Southern States MVP57 is the highest yielding wheat variety in Virginia. tests over the past three years. It has shown slightly below average test weights. It is a full season to late season variety. It is on the borderline for problems with powdery mildew and other diseases.

For more variety options, growers can find wheat variety test results online by going to their state land-grant agriculture site or by contacting their local county Extension agent.