Inspect wheat now for winter injury

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WOOSTER, Ohio – If you get a break in the weather, walk your wheat stands to check for winter damage.

Stand assessment usually gets under way between mid-March and early April, depending on how long winter lasts.

“Assessment of wheat stands can only be made after late winter green-up when the risk of excessive freezing and thawing is low,” said Pat Lipps, an Ohio State University Extension plant pathologist.

Looking good. Early inspection indicates the wheat is in good shape in most areas and may be in line to produce high yields if the weather cooperates over the next few weeks.

According to the Ohio Agricultural Statistics Service, about 900,000 acres of wheat have been planted in Ohio, down 15 percent from last year.

Late plantings. The drop in acreage is due mainly in part to late planting because of the delay in the soybean harvest.

Lipps said that such late plantings can limit crop development because not enough tillers form before winter dormancy.

“In most fields, the plants were smaller than usual, consisting of only two or three tillers each by the time of winter dormancy in early to mid-December,” he said.

Cold temperatures throughout January and February permitted snow to cover bare ground and ice, which protected plants from injury.

Check for heaving. Lipps said growers should look for heaving – a condition whereby the crowns of plants are pushed up out of the soil as the ground freezes and thaws.

Look for crowns and upper roots exposed with only a few roots remaining in the soil, Lipps said.

“These plants will green-up and look normal, but within a few weeks will turn brown and die.”

Heaving is more prone in wet, high-clay content fields, in tilled fields with little surface residue and with wheat plants planted too shallow.

Tiller numbers. Green-up inspection is also a good time to assess tiller development, especially in late-planted fields.

Fields planted within 10 to 14 days of the Hessian fly safe date using 18 to 24 seed per foot of row with about 20 to 25 pounds of nitrogen applied at planting rarely have any problems with low tiller numbers in the spring, said Lipps.

Yield potential is reduced if tiller numbers fall below 25 per square foot after green-up, Lipps said.

Fifteen tillers per square foot is considered minimum for an economic crop.

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