January 17, 2007 | By: Laura Skillman
HOPKINSVILLE, Ky.

Kentucky’s wheat farmers struggled to finish planting their crop this past fall, but warmer than normal temperatures since then have given the crop a needed boost.

Generally, wheat planted beyond the optimal planting dates is more likely to sustain yield losses, although that is not always the case, said Jim Herbek, grain crops specialist with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. Weather and timely, appropriate fertilizer applications can help offset the possible yield lag.

“We couldn’t ask for any better weather,” he said. “Now nitrogen management is important. Farmers need to look at their crop and determine if they should invest more money in it, and most will.”

Herbek said for the past few years, Kentucky producers have seen their share of planting delays – primarily from too wet conditions, but at least once because of extreme dryness.
Generally about 60 percent of the state’s wheat crop is planted between Oct. 10 and Oct. 30 – the optimum planting window – with 20 percent planted ahead of that and another 20 percent planted in the first two weeks of November. However, 2006 was different. By the end of the optimum planting time, about 70 percent was planted – 10 percent below normal. But the biggest difference was in the first two weeks of November when only about 5 percent more was planted, leaving 25 percent planted much later than normal and perhaps some not planted at all.

The disadvantage of late-planted wheat is that there is limited plant growth before dormancy sets in and that reduces tiller development. There is also a greater risk for winter injury and slightly later maturity.

Most of the disadvantages can be offset by warm winter weather conditions as well as dry, cool temperatures in the spring when wheat is making seed. A warm fall and winter allow for more plant growth than what would occur under normally cooler conditions. It can also aid in obtaining better wheat stands and winter survival as opposed to a cool fall and winter.

“The weather so far has been a positive,” Herbek said. “With the exception of one week in early December we’ve been averaging five degrees above normal. That will help plant growth and development. Whether this is going to continue, I don’t know. But those (farmers) with late-planted wheat have had the crop emerge with good stands and plant growth up to this point. That’s in their favor, in terms of how this wheat is going to turn out.”
While it is too late for this year, in late-planting situations farmers need to consider planting earlier-maturing varieties with good tillering potential and increasing seeding rates.
Nitrogen management is important in the upcoming weeks to aid in overcoming late planting disadvantages.

“Spring nitrogen applications are going to be critical to increase tillering on late-planted wheat, which is what we want,” Herbek said. “I think in this case, split applications are justified. About 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre should be applied in mid February to stimulate tillering with the second application of 30 to 45 pounds of nitrogen per acre made in March prior to the wheat jointing.”