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Winter wheat: To plant or not to plant

Although much of the spring wheat crop is still in the field, it is good to think ahead and explore the potential of seeding winter wheat. If it survives the winter and spring cold, winter wheat has an advantage of a longer growing season than spring wheat, because it establishes in the fall and starts growth early in the spring.

There are a number of benefits in the cropping system of seeding winter wheat. Winter wheat is a good weed competitor in the spring, and wild oat herbicide may not be required, saving on input costs.

- When seeded in September, the soil will be covered during the winter and will reduce the risk of wind erosion (if there is not sufficient snow cover).

- Spreading of the workload as seeding takes place in the fall instead of the busy spring, and harvesting will be earlier than spring wheat.

- Most of the nitrogen fertilizer decisions can be made in the spring.

- Winter wheat has greater yield potential as compared to spring wheat.

- Winter wheat has a great potential to tiller and fill in gaps.

- May reduce the risk of Fusarium head blight due to early development and maturity. However, none of the winter wheat varieties have much of any resistance to Fusarium head bight compared to the current spring wheat varieties.

There are, of course, also some risks associated with winter wheat production. The main risk is the survival of the crop during a harsh winter and cold spring. The price and quality of winter wheat are less than spring wheat. When the crop is treated with care (including timely seeding, right plant population, fertilizer, etc) winter wheat can be a viable crop in the farming operation.

The recommended seeding period for winter wheat for northwest Minnesota is September 1 to 15th, and can be planted until early October when no-tilled into soybean stubble.

Planting after the recommended dates may reduce winter survival and grain yields. Winter wheat should be seeded at a rate to obtain one million established plants per acre.

Winter wheat nitrogen needs can be met in early spring. Ammonium nitrate is often superior to urea for late spring applications but should not be applied in the fall because of leaching and soil movement concerns. Spring nitrogen applications should be made as soon as possible after the crop breaks dormancy, but no later than fifth leaf stage.

No-till seeding of winter wheat into standing stubble from a previous crop is a successful method of reducing the risk of winterkill. During the winter the standing stubble traps snow. The snow cover keeps soil temperatures warm enough to allow winter wheat to overwinter.

Generally, it is not recommended to plant winter wheat following a spring or winter wheat crop due to increased potential for plant diseases. Winter wheat fits well in a rotational system with any broadleaf crop that allows timely planting.

A source for the production information about winter wheat in Northwest MM and ND can be found on the Internet: An excellent website with information on wheat production can be found at

For more information, contact me at the Polk County office in McIntosh at 800-450-2465, or at the Clearwater County office on Wednesdays at 800-866-3125. If e-mail is your thing, contact me at

Source: Hans Kandel and Jochum Wiersma.