2018 Spring Wheat Condition


Across Kentucky, most of the wheat crop that was planted in October has established well and is between Feekes 4 and Feekes 6, for Central to Southern Kentucky, respectively. Of course, this is assuming that is did not drown out from all the rain in March.

However, the wheat crop that was planted in November, particularly mid- to late- November has not fared so well. The cold temperatures that began in November resulted in delayed wheat growth. In some cases, wheat that was planted after Thanksgiving did not emerge from the soil until late-February or early-March and have not yet or only recently begun to produce tillers. This is illustrated in Figure 1 where marked growth differences are apparent between wheat planted in late-November (center of photo) and that which was planted in mid-October (toward the far right and far left of the photo) at UK’s Research and Education Center in Princeton.

I rarely recommend that a wheat crop be terminated, because wheat has a tremendous ability to tiller and produce good yields in most conditions. Unfortunately, for wheat that was planted in mid- to late- November, producers may need to consider whether continuing to manage the wheat crop will be more profitable than terminating the wheat now and establishing full-season soybean.

We know that in Kentucky, yield potential is greatest for wheat stands that have between 70 and 100 to 120 tillers per square foot (Table 1). Anything below 70 tillers per square foot typically does not attain maximum yield potential, but it is generally only about a 5 to 10% yield penalty. However, as stands thin significant yield loss can occur.

For wheat with visibly ‘thin’ stands, determining exactly how many tillers per square foot exist is important this year. This will allow a determination of whether the wheat/double-crop soybean or full-season would be more profitable. For the wheat in Figure 1 that was planted in late-November at Princeton, there were no tillers present in early March, only individual plants, due to cool growing conditions following planting. On average the plant counts were about 35 plants per square foot. This indicates that we established the desired plants per square foot. However, due to the cool conditions there are no tillers. We know that the fall tillers generate much of the yield potential in wheat. Since no fall tillers were established, the estimated yield potential is only 60-70% (Table 1). In contrast, the wheat that was planted in mid-October in Princeton produced adequate tillers in the fall and had about 90 tillers per square foot.

I am optimistic that wheat planted in October will be productive and profitable this year. Unfortunately, for ‘thin’ wheat stands and/or wheat that was planted in mid- to late- November, I am less optimist that it will be a profitable system this year.

Based upon the condition of late-planted wheat across the state, some Kentucky producers will have the difficult decision of terminating an unprofitable wheat crop to plant a more profitable full-season soybean crop this year.

WheatJennifer Elwell