Grain drills in the field signal the start of a new wheat season

Wheat has gotten off to a strong start this fall. However, as with all commodities in 2016, growers should take advantage of opportunities to achieve good yields using the most cost-effective inputs.

Uniform stands of timely-planted wheat bodes well for achieving profitable yields.
Uniform stands of timely-planted wheat bodes well for achieving profitable yields.

Growers have been successful in planting their 2015-16 winter wheat crop over the past month. Planting progress is well ahead of the past two years thanks to timely maturation and harvest of preceding crops such as soybeans and an extended stretch of favorable weather. The acreage devoted to wheat this fall will undoubtedly surpass last year’s level as growers have been encouraged by accommodating weather and relatively weak commodity prices for competing crops such as corn and soybeans.

As always, the ultimate goal of the producer is to achieve a profitable wheat crop by boosting grain yields while keeping a reign on production expenses. Relative to yield, growers are doing better. The National Agricultural Statistics Service‘s Michigan Small Grains Summary, Sept. 30, 2015, reports that the state’s average yield jumped to 81 bushels per acre. This represents an all-time high for Michigan and an increase of seven bushels above the 2014 crop.

Strong wheat yields, to a significant degree, depend on early planting (preferably in September) and a seeding operation that results in a uniform stand of seedlings. At this time of year, it is a good time to closely observe fields of seedling wheat. Michigan State University Extension encourages field scouts and growers to note the actual depth the seed was placed, the uniformity of emergence and consistency of stand. In addition, it is worthwhile to note the number of seedlings per length of row to determine if growers achieved their target seed rate and to look for evidence of any impediments to seed germination or seedling emergence. These observations may help growers fine-tune their equipment or practices in the future. The table below can be useful in translating seed and seedling numbers in a foot of row.

Relating target seeding rate per acre to seed and seedling numbers for drills having 6- or 7.5-inch row spacing

6-inch row spacing7.5-inch row spacing
Seeding rate (millions/acre)Seeds per foot of rowSeedlings* per foot of rowSeeding rate (millions/acre)Seeds per foot of rowSeedlings* per foot of row
1.4 20.1 18.5 (92%) 1.4 20.1 -92%
1.6 23 20.7 (90%) 1.6 23 -90%
1.8 25.8 22.7 (88%) 1.8 25.8 -88%
2 28.7 24.7 (86%) 2 28.7 -86%
2.2 31.6 26.5 (84%) 2.2 31.6 -84%

* Average number of seedlings with an estimated percent emergence in parenthesis.

In the year to come, growers will likely need to be more mindful of the input costs of growing grain crops, including wheat, as commodity prices are projected to be relatively weak in 2016. During the winter months, producers might do well to review their list of past production inputs and decide which of these are most likely to result in a positive return on investments under suppressed commodity prices. For example, those that have adopted additional inputs as part of an intensive wheat management program may need to employ only those that have given the greatest level of return.

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