Southern wheat early start seeding rates planting dates nitrogen

Cooler, freezing temperatures have hit the South, kicking wheat planting into higher gears. The 2014 cropping season begins.

Southern wheat set right early pays off later

  As of Nov. 11, 30 percent of the wheat crop is in the ground in Georgia, on pace with the five-year average. About half the expected wheat is planted in Alabama, a bit ahead of the five-year average. Planting wheat at the right time is critical. Planting too early or too late reduces yield.  

The cold weather has come. The temps have dipped to frost to downright freezing, and that slips wheat planting into the higher gears in the South.

As of Nov. 11, the National Agriculture Statistics Service Georgia office figured 30 percent of the wheat crop is in the ground in Georgia, on pace with the five-year average. About half the expected wheat is planted in Alabama, according the Alabama office, a bit ahead of the five-year average.

According to Dewey Lee, University of Georgia small grain specialist, research in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina shows deep tillage brings out the best yields for wheat. Deeper tillage gives the roots easier penetration, buries diseased debris, can dilute root pathogens and help water infiltration.


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No-till is not used much in wheat, and using it can reduce yields between 5 to 20 percent. Disking a field gets a good seedbed but can lead to compacted soil, and a hardpan can form. As far as wheat yields go, deep tillage, bottom or paraplowing or V-ripping is the best.

“It is slower and more costly than disking, but the yield increase is usually cost effective. In situations where double-cropping makes it impractical to deep till, chiseling or subsoiling may be an acceptable alternative,” Lee says in the recent Georgia Wheat Production Guide.

Planting dates matter

Planting wheat at the right time is critical. Planting too early or too late reduces yield. The optimum window for wheat planting in Georgia is typically one week before the average first frost date for a given area and one week after frost, Lee says.

“Planting during the appropriate time for your area will allow wheat to develop enough tillers prior to January or early February which reduces the likelihood of needing to apply two applications of Nitrogen fertilizer in the spring. Fall produced tillers will have stronger root systems, larger heads with better capacity for high test weight and consequently, tolerate more stress,” Lee says.

Pick the right variety. Vernalization requirement varies widely. For wheat to vernalize, temperatures must remain low for a specific length of time. Without the cold, wheat waits until enough heat units are accumulated before heading. This delay can cause wheat to fill the grain during a hot and dry time of the year such as May or early June.

Create traffic patterns, or tramlines, in the field. In intensively managed wheat, they can make applying uniform, precise sprays much easier. They can be used as guides for repeated applications and save on aerial applications.

Seed rate and the N factor matter, too

Seeding rate should be based on seeds per acre. It’s more accurate than seeding based on weight per acre. “Multiple seeding rates studies have been conducted throughout the southeastern U.S. Most show that seeding 1.2 million to 1.5 million seeds per acre is optimum. This is equal to seeding about 30 - 35 seeds per square foot,” Lee says. Of course to get this, a grower needs to know seed size, or number of seeds per pound.

Good yields need well-timed fertilizer. Know the soil’s potential, cultivar, realistic yield goal, previous crop and residual N. For expected wheat yields of 40 to 70 bushels per acre, use a total N rate of 80 to 100 pounds per acre. Higher yields likely require 100 to 130 pounds of N per acre or more.

Apply nitrogen in the fall is critical to encourage good tiller production prior to the onset of winter.

Based on the previous crop rotation, in general, apply N with these rates:

  • Cotton: 35 to 40 lbs ac
  • Corn: 30 to 35 lbs ac
  • Fallow: 25 to 30 lbs ac
  • Soybeans: 15 to 20 lbs ac
  • Peanuts: 0 to 15 lbs ac

Don’t over over-fertilize with nitrogen in the fall. It can cause excessive growth resulting in winter damage. When the wheat crop reaches the growth stage Zadoks GS 25, count tillers to determine the need for more nitrogen applications for the proper tiller production prior to the onset of stem elongation. This stage generally occurs in January in south Georgia and late January to mid-February farther north.

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