Small grain planting has begun in Kent County. A few growers have already planted barley and are getting ready to plant winter wheat. Past research has shown the optimal planting dates in Kent County are October 1-10 for barley and October 8-22 for wheat. Planting small grains too early can lead to excessive growth that leaves plants susceptible for cold injury. Other early planting risks include being more attractive to aphids (which can vector Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus) and Hessian fly damage. Planting too late does not give small grains enough time to form fall tillers and adequate root systems prior to winter. Fall tillers are important as they are responsible for producing a majority of the grain. While a warm fall or early winter will be more forgiving to late planted small grains, using the suggested planting dates above sets the crop up for maximum yield potential.
TIP: The Hessian Fly free dates in Delaware are: October 3 (New Castle County), October 8 (Kent County), and October 10 (Sussex County). Another way to determine the optimal planting date for wheat is to use the expected first frost date which is October 15 in Kent County. Wheat planting should occur one week prior to and after this date (October 8-22).
Seeding Rates & Plant Stands
Achieving an optimal plant stand should also be a high priority. The goal is to have a final stand of 22-25 wheat plants per square foot. Therefore, a seeding rate of 30-35 seeds per square foot, which roughly equals 1.3-1.5 million seeds per acre, is recommended. Seeding rates will need to be adjusted upward for later plantings. Additional considerations which may need an increased seeding rate include planting method (broadcast versus drilled) and tillage practice (full tillage, minimum tillage, or no-till). Adjust the seeding rate so that you achieve 22-25 plants per square foot. Barley seeding rates should also be 30-35 seeds per square foot with a final plant stand of 26-28 plants per square foot when seeded during the optimal planting date. The same adjustments concerning wheat planting will need to be considered for barley planting. Below is an example of how to covert square foot to row foot:
Example 1. If the goal is 35 seeds per square foot, then how many seeds in a row foot with six inch drill spacing?
6 inch drill spacing multiplied by 12 inches equals 72 square inches of area
72 square inches of area divided by 144 inches in a square foot equals .5 square foot per row foot.
35 seeds per square foot multiplied by .5 square foot per row foot equals 17.5 seeds per row foot.
The answer is 17.5 seeds per row foot with a 6 inch drill.
Use your desired seeding rate and drill spacing to convert to seeds per row foot.
TIP: If broadcast and incorporating, using a homemade square foot using ½” PVC works well. You will need four 90 degree elbows and roughly 48” of pipe. Alternatively, this same device can be used to measure combine harvest losses for corn, soybeans, and wheat.
A common rotation for our area is corn-wheat-soybeans or corn-barley-soybeans. Special consideration should be given to seeding small grains after corn, especially in 2013 due to the high corn yields. High yields typically meant plants were healthier with additional residue to deal with. Residue management has become the focus of equipment manufactures as many growers have transitioned over using less tillage to do the same job.
Growers have a few options to respond to high residue situations. The first option is to do nothing and no-till. This requires heavy drills specifically designed to seed into high residue situations. This will require excellent down pressure and good sharp blades. The seeding rate will likely need to increase to meet the optimal plant population. No-till may not be the most suitable choice when seeding wheat after the optimal seeding date due to the cold soils.
The next type of practice is using reduced tillage, often achieved using vertical tillage equipment (Great Plains Turbo-Till, Case 330, Landoll 7400, etc…) to prepare the seed bed. This is not meant to be an all-inclusive list as there are numerous vertical tillage equipment manufacturers. The aggressiveness of tillage varies between manufacturer and model (i.e. A turbo-till does not work the same as a Landoll 7400). Either way, the goal is to chop or size the residue so that seed can be placed into the soil in a uniform manner. This may require several passes with the same tool to achieve a suitable seed bed. Hooking a rolling basket type finisher to the back will help to level the soil which further improves seed bed preparation.
Last, conventional tillage will completely invert or mix the residue into the soil. Most commonly a chisel plow, disk, and finisher are used to prepare the seedbed. The advantage to this system is the lack of residue, a smooth seedbed, and warmer soils. Consequences include over-drying of the seed bed which may result in uneven germination and emergence leading to a reduced stand. The cost of additional equipment, replacement parts, labor, and extra tractors are all additional factors to consider.
TIP: No matter which method above is used, the optimal planting depth for wheat is 1-1.5 inches. Wheat can be planted slightly deeper into moisture during dry periods. Do not plant deeper than 2 inches due to the delayed emergence. Conversely, planting too shallow (less than ½ inch) can result in uneven germination and emergence.
The fall is a good time to apply fertilizer for the small grain (and following soybean) crop. Soil sample prior to planting (the best is directly after corn harvest to facilitate sampling taking) as long as the ground is not too dry. This year is a bit of a challenge due to the lack of rainfall during the past month. Nitrogen (N) should be applied prior to seeding to stimulate fall tillers. In most cases, 20-30lbs of actual N should be enough though incorporating a heavy residue (carbon) crop like corn can cause an C:N imbalance resulting in immobilization of N which the crop cannot use. This may require an upward adjustment of nitrogen fertilizer to assure a healthy start for the young small grain crop. Phosphorus and potassium can be applied at this time according to soil test recommendations. When using poultry manure, be thoughtful about using high rates of manure that can cause lodging next spring. Choose a short, high yielding variety if using manure.
Getting a small grain crop off to a good start is vital for good yields next year. Pay attention to planting dates, seeding population, residue management, tillage, and fertility which are important components to maximizing yields. The road to achieving high wheat and barley yields begin now.
Small Grain Weed Control in the Fall: http://extension.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=6406
Using Saved Seed from the 2013 Harvest: http://extension.udel.edu/weeklycropupdate/?p=6312
Phillip Sylvester, Extension Agriculture Agent, UD, Kent County