The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

September 14, 2013

Soil is dry, what do you do with wheat?

By Rick Nelson, Extended Forecast
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Soils are becoming dry in many parts of the area.

Optimum planting time is here for dual-purpose wheat and if moisture conditions do not improve, producers basically have two options:

• Dust it in at the normal seeding depth and normal planting date — and hope for rain. The seed will remain viable in the soil until it gets enough moisture. Last season, some of the wheat seed planted in October lay in the soil until the following spring prior to germinating.

Before planting, producers should look at the long-term forecast and try to estimate how long the dry conditions will persist. If it looks like there is a chance the dry weather will continue until at least the back end of the optimum range of planting dates, producers should treat the fields as if they were planting later than the optimum time.

Rather than cutting back on seeding rates and fertilizer to save money on a lost cause, producers should increase seeding rates, consider using a fungicide seed treatment and utilize a starter fertilizer. The idea is to make sure the wheat gets off to a good start and will produce enough heads to have good yield potential, assuming it eventually will rain and the crop will emerge late.

Wheat that emerges in November almost always has fewer fall tillers than wheat that emerges in September or October.

There are risks to this option. A hard rain could crust over the soil or wash soil off planting ridges and into the seed furrows, potentially causing emergence problems. Another factor is the potential for wind erosion if the field lies unprotected with no ridges. Also, the wheat may not come up until spring, in which case it may have been better not to plant the wheat at all and consider a spring crop instead.

The worst-case scenario for this option would be if a light rain occurs and the seed gets just enough moisture to germinate the seed but not enough for the seedlings to emerge through the soil or to survive very long if dry conditions return. This could result in a loss of the stand.

• Wait for a rain and then plant. To overcome the risk of crusting or stand failure, producers may decide to wait until it has rained and soil moisture conditions are adequate before planting. Under the right conditions, this would result in good stands, assuming the producer uses a high seeding rate and a starter fertilizer. If it remains dry well past the optimum range of planting dates, the producer would have the option of just keeping the wheat seed in the bin until next fall and planting spring crop instead.

The risk of this option is that the weather may turn rainy and stay wet later this fall, preventing the producer from planting the wheat at all, while those who dusted their wheat in have a good stand.

There also is the risk of leaving the soil unprotected from the wind through the winter until the spring crop is planted.

Crop insurance considerations and deadlines should play a role in any of these decisions.

Nelson is Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service ag educator for Garfield County.