By Donald Stotts
Although some of Oklahoma received rain showers as October began, many wheat growers in the state are facing drought conditions as they plant their fall crop.
There is always risk involved when planting wheat in dry conditions, both in general and for specific types of operations, said Amanda de Oliveira Silva, Oklahoma State University Extension small grains specialist.
“For example, dual-purpose wheat producers should determine the amount of forage their operations will need when charting out their livestock feed supplies, in addition to concerns every wheat grower may have about planting and crop performance,” she said.
OSU Extension recommendations are that seed depth be between 1 to 1½ inch when planting wheat. Oklahoma doesn’t typically experience the winter kill issues seen in more northerly states.
Producers who choose to “dust in” wheat at an optimum planting date are essentially betting that October will bring sufficient rainfall to their area. The good news is the seed should remain viable in the soil provided it hasn’t germinated. Be cautious with in-furrow nitrogen or potassium fertilizers as they can damage the seed and make it more challenging for the seed to absorb moisture needed for germination.
“The biggest risk for wheat planted into dry soils would be if a light rain occurs and the seed gets just enough moisture to germinate but not enough for the seedlings to emerge through the soil or to survive very long if dry conditions return,” Silva said. “Also, if a heavy rain occurs in a short period of time, it could peak the seed and cause issues with emergence.”
Silva recently provided additional insights about “dusting in” wheat on the agricultural television show SUNUP.
Wheat that emerges in October still may reach its yield potential but fall forage yield may be reduced.
For grain-only enterprises, the optimum time for planting wheat for most regions of Oklahoma is mid-October. Planting winter wheat in November leaves less time for the crop to develop tillers and roots, which could affect yield potential.
“In this case, producers need to adapt their seeding rate to offset the shorter period between planting and the arrival of harsher weather conditions,” Silva said.
Grain-only wheat growers probably will need to increase seeding rates if planting is delayed to November and December, according to OSU Extension recommendations. Consider using a fungicide seed treatment to help with establishment by preventing diseases caused by fungi. A starter fertilizer may be beneficial as well.
“Be sure to test the soil to assess the potential need of fertilizers and most effectively manage input costs,” Silva said. “Soil testing removes much of the guesswork and is therefore a good risk management tool.”
According to U.S. Department of Agriculture, wheat planting in Oklahoma reached 37% last week.
USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, in its Oct. 4, crop progress report, showed wheat planting was behind last year and the five-year average.
During the same time frame last year, 42% of the state wheat crop had been planted, with the five-year average being 44%.
In addition, 13% of the state wheat crop had emerged, according to NASS, compared to 18% last year and 15% for the five-year average.
As of Thursday, much of Northwest Oklahoma is listed in moderate drought, according to U.S. Drought Monitor.
Much of Woods County, along with parts of Alfalfa, Major and Woodward counties, is listed in severe drought. Parts of Harper and Woods counties are listed in extreme drought.
Fact sheets detailing research-based information and recommendations for planting wheat are available online and through all OSU Extension county offices.
Stotts is a communications specialist for OSU’s Agricultural Communications Services.