Assessing your Winter Wheat stand - Parrish and Heimbecker, Limited

Assessing your Winter Wheat stand

March 10, 2022 | Eastern Canada

Weather conditions were difficult this past fall when winter wheat was planted with an estimated 70% of intended wheat acres planted. It was one of the more challenging falls in recent memory.

Some of those acres were seeded in September, before the weather turned and it started to rain. Some growers were able to sneak in and plant in the middle of the planting window in mid-October. A large number of acres didn’t get planted until the first 10 days of November.

With these scattered planting dates and the fact that winter wheat had to suffer through some very wet conditions last fall, it’s worth brushing up on our skills assessing winter wheat fields in the spring. You might have to make some difficult decisions about whether to nurse a crop through to harvest or to disc the field and plant another crop.

There are some differences between winter wheat varieties and their ability to fight through tough weather conditions, but those differences aren’t dramatic. Environmental conditions, topography, drainage and crop system have a much bigger impact on winter survivability.

Assessing a stand

The first step in assessing a winter wheat stand is to check the seeding depth. Use a shovel to unearth some of the plants and make sure it got seeded to the one-inch mark. Plants established near the soil surface won’t survive.

Next, look at the plant growth stage. A stand with a good number of plants with three to four leaves in the spring will be better off.

Finally, do some stand counts. On average, a stand with 15 plants per foot of row or stronger is a crop at full potential. If there are 10 plants or greater, that crop still has significant potential. Fewer than 10 plants per foot of row and the decision needs to be made based on the uniformity of the crop and how advanced each plant is. Producers might decide to keep a less-than-ideal winter wheat stand if they need straw, to meet forward contracting obligations or for rotational reasons. If there are fewer than seven plants per foot of row, then it really isn’t worth keeping.

If you’re facing a variable crop, try and estimate how large each area of poor stand is, considering the total area of the field. Estimate the size of thin spots. If you can get into the field early, consider planting spring wheat into the thinner areas of the field so that the crop matures together and can be harvested at the same time. You can also interseed barley. The decision to interseed has to be made by the end of March, otherwise you can hold off on deciding whether to terminate a wheat crop until after the lawn gets cut for the first time.

Either way, nitrogen

With later planted wheat that had a short fall growth period, applying a percentage of nitrogen early when conditions are conducive, will promote tillering and help maintain optimal yields. With good top growth on early planted wheat with multiple tillers, a delayed Nitrogen application should be practiced. If the stand established is questionable, contact your local P&H agronomist for an infield evaluation.