Winter Wheat Continues to be a Challange

As near perfect as 2011 was for growing winter wheat, 2012 has been just as challenging. Kent Messick, Chief Agronomist for NCDA:

“It’s a management decision, everybody’s situation tends to be a little bit different. The factors that we’re looking at in 2012 are not something that we have a great deal of experience in in North Carolina. The residual fertilizer left over from the 2011 growing season has been a factor in growing wheat, there’ also a factor that a lot of growers got planted a little earlier than they normally would. This has tied in well with the warmer than normal season that they got off to a quicker start. There has been very little slow down due to the mild weather in the winter and in the spring.”

Which is leaving us with wheat that is often tall, thick and wooly, in danger of falling over. One of the several recommendations to set a wheat crop back has been mowing, but Messick says there are others:

“All the factors have ended up in small grain being larger than we’re used to dealing with. So, then it becomes a management decision as to when to fertilize, top dress, how much to do, concerns about freezes killing the primary tillers that come out, so what should I do about the secondary tillers that I may have to depend on. There are some that are looking at growth regulators for small grain application. But, again we don’t’ have great experience with that in North Carolina because small grains have not been a high priority crop.”

As far as adding nitrogen at this point, tissue sampling offered by the agronomic division is a good idea, for wheat in some areas, according to Messick:

“Certainly it’s a good time to have used tissue sampling, hopefully growers have already done that. Growers in the Coastal Plain we’re rapidly moving past the opportune time to take tissue sampling, once stem elongation begins to occur for wheat then it becomes difficult to do an interpretation as to what your nitrogen rate should be at that point.”

But, Messick says the weather has been the biggest challenge:

“The weather has just been an unusual situation for a lot of agriculture this year.”

From NC State Extension Grain Specialist Dr. Randy Weisz:

Some wheat around the state has already got two joints and has either lodged, or is looking like it will fall over soon. I'm being asked what can be done about it. Here are four considerations:

1) Stems with two joints will be killed by temperatures in the mid-twenties. Chances are good that we will have temperatures that low sometime in the next month… so those advanced tillers are likely not to make it to harvest. If a harvest is going to be made it will have to come from the secondary tillers.

2) If the crop is already lodged will there be anything to harvest next June? Perhaps not! For wheat that is already down, the best thing to do might be to mow it. Mowing will kill those advanced tillers (just like a freeze would), release the secondary tillers, and perhaps result in having a crop to harvest in June.

3) If the crop is NOT already lodged, but looking like it will go over soon… hold back on the N rate. In many cases where the wheat looks lush and dark green it may not need any N to get it to harvest. I would not put more than 70 lb N TOPS on very large wheat at this time… and only if it was looking a bit anemic.

4) If the crop is NOT already lodged, what about a growth regulator? Cerone is the only growth regulator labeled for wheat. Cerone should NOT be applied to wheat before the flag leaf is out. If it is applied too early (like NOW), it may shut down the secondary tillers and prevent them from forming a head. So, to use Cerone, the crop must still be standing up at flag leaf initiation. I suspect that will be in about two to three weeks for most of this advanced wheat we are seeing. So, Cerone needs to be applied after the flag leaf is visible, and before the boot splits. is dedicated to serving the agricultural industry in the Carolinas and Virginia with the latest ag news, exclusive regional weather station readings, and key crop market information. The website is a companion of the Southern Farm Network, provider of daily agricultural radio programming to the Carolinas since 1974. presents radio programs, interviews and news relevant to crop and livestock production and research throughout the mid-Atlantic agricultural community.