The wheat crop got a wet, wintry start this fall and will likely be in need of a split application of nitrogen come late January or early February, says North Carolina's small grains specialist. Insects could also make production challenging for farmers in the upper Southeast.
Cold, wet and freezing weather delayed wheat plantings and slowed germination. In South Carolina, the wet fall prevented many farmers in the state from getting soybeans harvested and wheat planted. In Virginia, some areas were also late in getting wheat in the ground. In North Carolina, planting was delayed from four to six weeks in most areas.
In North Carolina, as in the region in general, many fields had not come up by mid-December. Growers were facing germination losses, as well as seeds rotting in the ground, says Randy Weisz, North Carolina State Extension small grains specialist.
The fields that did get planted more or less on time are having a hard time with cold, wet soils and freezing weather. No-till wheat in the Coastal Plain was coming up very slowly in mid-December and growers were seeing an increase of wireworm damage.
“I expect all the wheat in North Carolina to be thin and poorly tillered by early February,” Weisz says. “Growers would be well advised to check their stands in late January and if they have less than 50 tillers per square foot to get an early split application of 50 to 60 pounds of nitrogen per acre right away.” Thin wheat is cereal leaf beetle (CLB) heaven. All producers who have late-planted wheat should start scouting for CLB in April and plan on spraying if the threshold is reached.
Getting all the nitrogen on early can leave the wheat at high risk for freeze damage and nitrogen stress later in the spring. “Ideally, the treatment would be 60 pounds of nitrogen in early February and then the remaining nitrogen would go out just before jointing, which will most likely be in mid-March.
From November to December in South Carolina, “the Number One concern I've dealt with is, ‘How late can we plant?’” says Jay Chapin, Clemson University small grains specialist.
Earlier, the concern was an expected deficit of seed due to drought. “But the inability to get wheat planted turned into a seed inventory surplus,” Chapin says.
Dec. 15 is the cutoff date for planting wheat in the southern part of South Carolina, Chapin says. Yield potential generally decreases for every week planting is delayed from the optimal Nov. 15-Dec. 20 period. In the northern Coastal Plain, the optimal planting window is about two weeks earlier. The problem with late-planted wheat is that the opportunity for exceptional yield is gone, but the opportunity for things to go wrong before harvest is still with us. “That's not a good risk-reward ratio,” Chapin says. “We can make up to 50-bushel wheat planted after Dec. 15 in exceptional wheat years, but that's break-even and our growers don't need to be in it for a hobby.”
In Virginia, farmers on the Eastern Shore and Tidewater area of the state had problems getting wheat planted, says Marc Alley, Virginia Tech small grains specialist. “In the well-drained areas of the Coastal Plain, it's been a challenge, but most of the wheat has gotten planted.”
Virginia got hit with a big snow and ice storm in early December, as did North Carolina. “It's going to take some warm weather to get the crop up,” Alley says, “but in our climate this could all turn around in a week.”
The land-grant universities in North Carolina, Virginia and South Carolina have web sites for small grains. In North Carolina, the site is: http://cs-41236-wms.cropsci.ncsu.edu.
In Virginia, the site is: http://www.ext.vt.edu/resources and click on the crops and grains icon.
In South Carolina, the site is: http://www.clemson.edu/smallgrains.