Early wheat harvest could mean more opportunity for double-cropping

WOOSTER, Ohio — The early and dry spring has farmers across Ohio combining wheat about two to three weeks ahead of normal.

According to the USDA’s latest crop progress report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, 20 percent of Ohio’s wheat has already been harvested.

For farmers who intend to plant a double crop in the same field — usually soybeans or alfalfa — the early harvest provides a wider planting window and a better chance of harvesting the second crop before winter.

Rindfuss Farms was combining wheat near Bucyrus June 20. It was about the earliest they’ve ever harvested wheat, said Josh Adams, who was riding in the cab. He said they were looking forward to planting soybeans in the same field in the coming days.

The spring has mostly been dry, but a recent rain even helped ripen the wheat.

“With this heat and this rain, it came on so quick,” Adams said, adding they have about 125 acres of wheat to harvest.

Traditionally, wheat in Ohio comes off around July 4 and sometimes as late as July 20, according to Ed Lentz, an associate professor who specializes in crop production and agronomy at Ohio State University.

He predicts the early harvest will mean good things for the second crop.

“Ohio typically is too far north to have a growing season long enough to raise two crops before a killing frost,” Lentz said in a released statement. “But if you think about it, how often do we get a record warm winter and early spring such as this with everything two or three weeks ahead of time?”

Too dry?

But there are issues farmers need to consider before they decide to plant a second crop, Lentz said. Those include the potential for rainfall later in the season and how moist their soil is now, he said.

“Growers will have to make a calculated risk to see if they will get enough moisture later in the season to support the soybeans, because if it is too dry, the crop won’t make it,” Lentz said.

“They’ll also have to decide whether to spend on the seeds and fuel for the crop in hopes of making a profit.”

On June 21, Mike Kessler was preparing a seed bed for soybeans near Bascom, in northwestern Ohio, and the large amount of dust was proof the ground is dry. And, according to the June 24 USDA report, more than 75 percent of the topsoil in Ohio was “short” or “very short.”

In some places, the ground could be too dry for the beans to germinate, farmers fear, until another rain event. Although Kessler got an early start on his second crop, it’s bittersweet because the first crop — the wheat — was drowned out in the fall due to heavy rains and had to be tilled under.

Mike Schnitkey, who grain farms in Ohio’s Henry County, said the moisture of his wheat was good — about 12.5 percent — but it’s much earlier than he would usually be combining.

He was fortunate to not experience any damaging winds or hail, but said the dry weather has affected the quality of the wheat crop, as well as his corn and soybeans.

Even with adequate moisture at planting, the success of double-crop soybeans is heavily dependent upon rainfall in August and late July.

“This is an unusual year,” Lentz said. “Wheat is coming off much earlier than normal and we’ve got good subsoil moisture, but we could use more rain.”

Suggestions

If double-cropping this year:

• Conserve moisture by planting without tillage (no-till).

• Straw should be removed so it does not interfere with soybean planting. No more than 12 inches of wheat stubble should be left to provide mulch cover for the soybean crop. Excess straw should be baled or chopped and spread evenly on the field.

• Double-crop soybeans will have a shorter vegetative period before flowering is initiated since day lengths will begin to shorten after the summer solstice. To compensate for less vegetative growth, a producer should consider variety selection, row width and seeding rate to maximize yield potential.

• Early maturing varieties should be avoided for optimum yield. In the northern half of the state, Group 3.0 to 3.4 should be adequate, and in the southern half, Group 3.4 to 3.8.

• Narrow rows are a must for optimal yields in double-crop situations. Seeding rate should be increased to four seeds per foot row in a 7-inch row spacing.
Source: Ed Lentz, OSU agronomy

About the Author

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties. More Stories by Chris Kick

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