Top 8 Recommendations for Winter Wheat Establishment in 2015

Shawn Conley, State Soybean and Small Grains Specialist
John Gaska, Outreach Specialist
David Marburger, Graduate Student
Damon Smith, State Field Crops Pathology Specialist

Top 8 winter wheat establishment recommendations:

  1. Variety selection: please see the 2015 WI Winter Wheat Performance Test
  2. Plant new seed (DO NOT plant saved seed).
  3. A fungicide seed treatment is recommended for winter wheat in WI, especially for seed damaged by Fusarium head blight (FHB)
  4. Wheat should be planted 1 inch deep.
  5. The target seeding rate for wheat planted from September 15th to October 1st is 1,300,000 to 1,750,000 seeds per acre.
  6. The optimal seeding rate for wheat planted after October 1st should be incrementally increased as planting date is delayed to compensate for reduced fall tillering.
  7. Crop rotation matters.
  8. Plant between September 20 and October 5

Variety Selection

As with any crop, variety selection is the most important factor to consider in maximizing winter wheat yield and profitability. When choosing a winter wheat variety, several factors must be considered. These include winter survival, insect and disease resistance, lodging, test weight, and most importantly, yield. Since no variety is ideal for every location, it is important to understand the crop environment and pest complex that affects your specific region to maximize yield.

Yield is based on the genetic potential and environmental conditions in which the crop is grown. Therefore, by diversifying the genetic pool that is planted, a grower can hedge against crop failure. Select those varieties that perform well not only in your area, but across experimental sites and years. This will increase the likelihood that, given next year’s environment (which you cannot control), the variety you selected will perform well.

Test weight is also an important factor to consider when selecting a variety. The minimum test weight to be considered a U.S. #2 soft red winter wheat is 58 lb/bu. Wheat at lower test weights will be discounted. Both environment and pests and diseases may greatly affect test weight; therefore, selecting a variety that has a high test weight potential in your region is critical to maximizing economic gain.

Select a variety that has the specific insect and disease resistance characteristics that fits your needs. By selecting varieties with the appropriate level of resistance, crop yield loss may be either reduced or avoided without the need of pesticides. Careful management of resistant cultivars through crop and variety rotation, are required to ensure that these characteristics are not lost.

In 2015 FHB was a significant issue in Wisconsin. The 2015 WI Winter Wheat Performance Test report lists two FHB ratings for each variety. One is FHB incidence (the number of plants that had symptoms of FHB) and FHB severity (how much average head area was symptomatic for FHB). While both ratings can be useful for choosing an FHB-resistant variety, focus should be placed on choosing varieties that have a low FHB incidence rating. This will help to reduce the overall number of plants that are infected with FHB. When considering varieties to plant, choose a variety with the best balance between yield, test weight, and FHB incidence rating.

Plant height and lodging potential are also important varietal characteristics that may be affected by your cropping system. If the wheat crop is intended for grain only, it may be important to select a variety that is short in stature and has a low potential for lodging. This may decrease yield loss due to crop spoilage and harvest loss as well as increase harvesting rate. However, if the wheat crop is to be used as silage or is to be harvested as both grain and straw, then selecting a taller variety may be warranted.

For detailed information regarding winter wheat variety performance please visit for results of the 2015 WI Winter Wheat Performance Test.

Plant New Seed in 2015

  • To maximize wheat yields in 2016, it is imperative that growers plant certified or private (professionally prepared) seed that is true to variety, clean, and has a high germination percentage (>85%).
  • Many wheat fields received a glyphosate application as a harvest-aid. Due NOT save seed from those fields as germination rate can be adversely affected.
  • Many WI wheat fields also experienced Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), also known as scab in 2015. Kernels from heads infected with scab may be shriveled or shrunken and lightweight. Some kernels may have a pink to red discoloration (Image 1). Others may be bleached or white in color.
Image 1. Scabby and Tombstone Kernels (Photo courtesy of Karen Lackerman)
Image 1. Scabby and Tombstone Kernels (Photo courtesy of Karen Lackerman)

If growers absolutely need to plant saved seed due to availability or other economic considerations, the following steps should be taken to increase the likelihood of establishing a legal and good wheat crop.

Step One: Determine if you can legally plant the wheat seed you saved. Today, many private wheat varieties now come with statements which buyers sign at the time of purchase, stating that they understand they are not authorized to use the harvested grain for seed. Most current public winter wheat varieties are Plant Variety Protected (PVP) and though you may replant them on your own land, you do not have the right to trade/sell seed of those varieties to others for planting.

Step Two: Once you have determined if you can legally plant the seed you saved, the next step is to clean the wheat seed. It is important that wheat seed be cleaned to remove small and damaged seeds and to eliminate weed seeds. Removing small and damaged seeds will not only aid in crop establishment, but will also provide a more uniform wheat seedling stand. Removing small and damaged seeds will also increase the thousand-kernel weight (TKW), which serves as a measure of seed quality. Wheat seed with TKW values greater than 30 grams tend to have increased fall tiller number and seedling vigor.

Step Three: Perform a germination test. Germination tests can either be completed at home or by sending a sample to the Wisconsin Crop Improvement Association. A home test can be performed by counting out 4 sets of 100 seeds and placing each of them in a damp paper towel. Place the paper towel into a plastic bag to conserve moisture and store in a warm location out of direct sunlight. After five days, count the number of germinated seeds that have both an intact root and shoot. This will give the grower an estimate of % germination. It is important to choose random seeds throughout the entire seed lot and conduct at least 4 – 100 seed counts. If germination is below 85%, consider increasing the seeding rate to compensate; however, we would caution growers from seeding any wheat with a germination test below 80%.

Step Four: Assess the need for a seed treatment. A number of fungicides and insecticides are labeled for use as seed treatments on winter wheat and are listed in Pest Management for Wisconsin Field Crops 2015 (UW-Extension A3646). Seed treatment fungicides protect germinating seed and young seedlings from seedborne and soilborne pathogens. Seed treatment fungicides will not improve germination of seed that has been injured by environmental factors and will not resurrect dead seed. If seed with scab must be used for planting, a seed treatment fungicide is a must to improve germination and protect stand. Note that planting scabby seed won’t increase the risk of FHB next spring. Also remember that seed treatment fungicides applied this fall will not protect against potential FHB infection next summer. You may still need to apply a foliar fungicide during anthesis to control FHB.

Seeding Depth

Wheat should be planted ~1.0 inch deep depending upon soil moisture conditions. Wheat planted less than 0.5 inches deep may result in uneven germination due to seed exposure or dry soil conditions. Shallow planted wheat is also more susceptible to winterkill. Wheat planted more than 1.5 inches deep may result in death due to pre-mature leaf opening or poor tiller development and winter survival. Uniform seed placement and seeding depth are important in promoting crop health in the fall.

Seeding rate

The targeted fall stand for wheat planted from September 15th to October 1st is between 30 and 40 plants per square foot. This is about 25 seeds per foot in 7.5” rows. To achieve this goal, the seeding rate for soft red winter wheat is between 1,300,000 and 1,750,000 viable seeds per acre (Table 1, 2). Depending upon varietal seed size, this equates to 74 to 175 pounds of seed per acre (Table 3). Our data from the 2012/13 and 2013/14 growing seasons indicate a significant yield increase when increasing your seeding rate from 1.5 and 1.75 million seeds per acre; however that marginal yield increase is likely offset by the increased seed cost. The optimal seeding rate for wheat planted after October 1st should be incrementally increased as planting date is delayed to compensate for reduced fall tillering (Table 1).

Planting Date

Winter wheat in WI should be seeded between September 20th and October 5th. Planting wheat too early can lead to more incidence of barley yellow dwarf virus (BYDV) due to feeding and disease transmission by aphids. Aphids such as the bird cherry oat aphid can vector BYDV to wheat in the fall. Their ability to feed on wheat and transmit the disease is limited when temperatures are cooler. Waiting to plant wheat until later September shortens the potential aphid feeding time. Planting too early can also lead to excessive fall growth and potential smothering of the crop. There are also increased risks of planting too late. If air and soil temperatures get too cold, wheat will not germinate and emerge well in the fall.

Winter wheat and crop insurance (Information courtesy of Michele Austin, Director -Insurance Services; Badgerland Financial)

The Wisconsin winter wheat final planting date varies by county, ranging from September 30th to October 10th. If the wheat is seeded after the county’s final plant date (late planting period) the crop insurance guarantee is reduced by 1% per day for the first 10 days. If wheat is seeded after the late planting period, the crop insurance guarantee is reduced to 60% of the original guarantee.

Special notes regarding the 2016 crop

The 2014 Farm Bill offers additional coverage on your winter wheat. You must sign up for the optional SCO (Supplemental Coverage Option) insurance with your crop insurance agent by September 30th for your winter wheat crop. This does not/cannot take the place of your traditional crop insurance policy. Contact your crop insurance agent for details.

  • The Trend Adjustment and Yield Exclusions options are available for some Wisconsin counties on Wheat. Talk to your crop insurance agent for more details.
  • Winter wheat coverage is not available in all Wisconsin counties.
  • Air seeded (flown on by airplane) wheat is not insurable and no premium is charged.
  • The final day to turn in a 2015 winter wheat claim is October 31st.
  • The 2016 wheat price discovery on CBOT (using September ’15 contract) will be determined as follows (this price will be used for both yield protection and revenue protection plans of insurance)

    o The Projected Price tracks from August 15, 2015 – September 14, 2015
    o The Harvest Price tracks from August 1, 2016 – August 31, 2016
    o There is a 200% maximum difference between the Base and Harvest Prices with no downside limit.

Table 1. Wisconsin seeding rate recommendations based on planting date.
Table 1. Wisconsin seeding rate recommendations based on planting date.
Table 2. Seeding rate impact on wheat yield. 2013-14 growing seasons.
Table 2. Seeding rate impact on wheat yield. 2013-14 growing seasons.
 Table 3. Seed size and seeding rate conversion table.

Table 3. Seed size and seeding rate conversion table.

Crop Rotation:

Yield data from our long term rotation experiment located at Arlington, WI indicated that wheat grain yield was greatest when following soybean (Table 4) (Marburger, D., S.P. Conley, P.D. Esker, J.G. Lauer, and J.M. Ané. 2015. Yield Response to Crop/Genotype Rotations and Fungicide Use to Manage Fusarium-Related Diseases. Crop Sci. 55:1-10. doi: 10.2135/cropsci2014.03.0201). Our data suggests that growers should plant wheat after soybean first, then corn silage, corn for grain, and lastly wheat.

Table 4. Winter wheat grain yield following winter wheat, soybean, corn for grain, and corn silage.
Table 4. Winter wheat grain yield following winter wheat, soybean, corn for grain, and corn silage.

If growers choose to plant second year wheat, several management factors should be considered to reduce risk. First plant a different wheat variety in the second year that possesses excellent resistance to residue-borne diseases. Under no circumstances should growers consider planting bin-run seed in second year wheat. By planting a different variety with strong disease resistance characteristics you can reduce the likelihood of early disease pressure and significant yield loss. Growers should use a seed treatment in wheat following wheat. Be aware that seed treatments are not a cure all for all common diseases in continuous wheat systems (e.g. take-all). Growers should also consider increasing their seeding rate to 1.8 to 2.0 million seeds per acre in wheat following wheat systems. This will aid in stand establishment and increase the likelihood of a uniform stand going into the winter. Lastly, if using a no-till system, planting into a seedbed that is free of living volunteer wheat is important in reducing the incidence of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus. Growers should consider a herbicide application to destroy any living volunteer wheat prior to planting to prevent a “green bridge” for the aphids that vector this virus.