HERMITAGE — Winter wheat has always been a major part of the overall farming operation on Missouri farms.

Growing a high yielding and profitable crop will require planning on the part of the grower every year.

The following are some simple steps that may ensure success for the next crop:

Step 1

Each and every producer needs to assess their own operation and make plans for a successful crop by selecting the best varieties for the area. A review of several years data will shows consistent performers. Yield is important but other factors to consider include stand qualities, hardiness, height of straw for tonnage and drought tolerance, as well as insect and disease resistance.

Top performers vary from year to year reflecting changing environment, weather and planting dates. One variety may do well in one part of the state but not in another because of Missouri’s diverse topography. Visit with local producers and see which varieties they like in the area. In Hughesville, Adrian and Lamar in southwestern Missouri, yield leaders produced a mean average of over 75 bushels per acre. Results from the University of Missouri Variety Testing trials are available online at

Step 2

Fertility management is also an important part in producing the kinds of yields you are looking for in the future. Taking a recent soil test to find out what you are starting with, as well as what you need to add as inputs, will go a long way in a successful crop. The cheapest and most important of these is lime. If soil pH range is below 5.5, the full benefits of other fertilizers applied will not be received.

Wheat being a winter annual grass requires a pH range of 5.5 – 6.0 for maximum growth potential. Check ENM requirements, found on the soil test, and match them with the local quarries ENM rating to best balance the soil.

In the absence of a soil test, a middle of the road fertilizer recommendation might include approximately 45 pounds of phosphorus and potassium, along with a split application of nitrogen.

On most Missouri soils, one to one and a quarter pounds of nitrogen is required per bushel yield of production. For a 60 bushel per acre yield, around 60 to 75 lbs. of actual nitrogen per acre would be applied. Applying a 20-45-45 blend in the fall and following it up with 40 to 55 pounds of nitrogen in the spring might work well as an application rate.

Step 3

Planting dates, rates and methods are important factors when seeding wheat. To avoid the Hessian Fly, which is found in Missouri, planting of wheat should be after Oct. 15 to insure a good stand. The Hessian Fly is potentially the most destructive insect in planted wheat. For those planning on planting earlier than this to use it for pasture, bailage and/or a cover crop, look for a variety of wheat that is resistant to the Hessian Fly.

Planting rates may vary depending on the soil type and location. Drilling rates of a bushel per acre are common while broadcasting and may increase the application rate to one and a half bushel per acres. Good seed to soil contact will increase the potential of seed to survive.

Step 4

Do not overlook the value of the straw. Often times, the true profit from a wheat crop is the square bales of straw sold to other livestock producers. Keep in mind the more that is removed, the more fertility will have to be put back to keep the soil strong and healthy.

Several farmers have asked if they could plant last year’s wheat seed. Unknown is the germination level of wheat seed not tested, but seed test labs can check it or farmers can do their own “flowerpot test” to determine percent germination, or “rag-doll tests” can be run by putting seeds in a wet cloth rolled up and kept at temperature of fields at planting.

A farmer planting untested seed solves two problems: It makes use of excess seed, as well as providing soil cover to prevent erosion. There should be no problem in reusing last year’s seed for a cover crop, if checked first.

With limitations on land that earns prevented-planting payments, the winter forage can be grazed by livestock, making winter feed. Check with USDA, NRCS and FSA on those limits on cover crop grazing.

“Wheat, rye and oats are popular winter cover crops," Rob Kallenbach, MU Extension forage agronomist, said. “They kill easily before planting spring crops, unlike some other covers.”

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