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Profit with winter wheat

As global demand for wheat continues to increase, agronomy specialists urge farmers to apply intensive crop production management to this often over
By Sarah Geyer 10/1/2018

For many Tennessee farmers who double-crop their soybeans with winter wheat, finding time to plant during October harvest season often becomes a logistical afterthought.

Seeds are broadcasted hurriedly, sometimes with just a hope and a prayer instead of early inputs, followed by uncertain anticipation to see if the plants that emerge after dormancy are quality enough to mature for harvest or provide better service as a terminated cover crop.

But this year’s winter wheat crop will likely garner more attention from farmers, say agriculture industry experts, thanks to a growing global demand for the crop. This year, commodity experts predict that demand for wheat will be greater than production for the first time since 2013. As expected, market prices for the commodity have also been on the rise. The Global Trade Atlas reports from June 1, 2017, to May 31, 2018, the average global wheat price has increased 4 percent.

If this trend continues as forecasted, industry experts predict farmers can produce a profitable wheat crop this year and suggest producers practice the same strategies used with corn and soybean crops — careful planning and management.

“If I’m planting wheat this year, I want to approach this crop with the same attitude that I take with my corn or beans,” says Darrin Holder, an agronomist with WinField United®. “I don’t want to go into wheat season thinking I’m going to half way do the crop, because that approach could limit my yield and my profit. If I want a successful wheat crop, I’ve got to plan for ways to drive my yield while efficiently managing my inputs. That’s the key to not only surviving but also growing in an uncertain market.”

The first step, even before planting, is to examine prices and lock in the profitable wheat price (if available) for at least part of the crop as soon as possible, according to University of Tennessee Extension Grain Specialist Dr. Aaron Smith.

“What is usually suggested is before planting, don’t lock in more than a third of your projected production,” he says. “Once the crop is planted, then you can secure a price on up to 50 percent of your crop and after dormancy, go ahead and lock in the remaining percentage as production risk decreases.”

As for planning a successful wheat crop, Aaron says the farmer has to start with a good, quality seed:

“More times than not, that decision will affect your bottom line more than anything. Planting inferior or unproven seed could mean a lackluster stand or poor germination, which will limit your options for the life of the stand. Without quality seed, you’re behind the eight ball right off the bat.”

Tennessee Farmers Cooperative agronomist Brandon Sheridan says he usually recommends wheat seed varieties 9606 and 8550 among the best from CROPLAN®, TFC’s proprietary seed brand by WinField United.

Sheridan says data shows that the 9606 variety has a good tolerance to both head scab and rust and produces medium stature with good test weight.

“With this variety, the producer will want to plant in the higher population rates, between 1.2 and 1.4 million seed per acre,” he says. “It has a low response to nitrogen, so you don’t have to push the nitrogen on this one but want to keep your population up.”

The 8550 variety performs satisfactorily when planted at a lower seed population but requires a high rate of nitrogen, preferably with a split shot application.

“Like 9606, 8550 also has rust and head scab tolerance,” he says. “But for both, I would suggest adding fungicide to push yield and help with other stresses. Both are bearded or awned varities.”

New this year, WinField United is offering a WinPak for wheat (8800), which includes a 50-50 blend of two complementary varieties.

By planting both of these varieties together, the farmer can more easily manage variability, like a broader coverage of disease, and a more middle-of-the-road response to population and nitrogen.

“With the 8800, the farmer should plant a population of 1 to 1.2 million seeds per acres,” says Brandon. “And based on the yield environment and the grower’s needs, nitrogen units can range from 100 to 120.”

According to Darrin, farmers have seen success with WinField United’s soybean WinPak.

“The cool thing about the data,” he says, “is that the vast majority of the time the WinPak outyielded the individual varieties.”

Another opportunity to maximize yield in a wheat crop, the WinField United agronomist explains, is to have as many plants emerge at the same time as possible.

“My goal is 70-plus heads per square foot with most of them being main stem heads,” he says. “To achieve that, I need to get more plants out of the ground in a timely fashion, pushing and pulling at the same time. There might be situations where tillering does happen, and I can use it to fill in the gaps. But I don’t want to plan on tillers to carry my yield.”

According to Darrin, the best method to produce timely plant emergence is seed treatments, including fungicide and insecticide.

“What inhibits stand establishment is your soil-borne diseases and your early season insects,” he says. “I want a seed treatment that provides an active ingredient in a rate that will provide longer protection and a percentage that will provide effective protection for my germinating seeds. And that means a greater chance of that seed coming out of the ground in a timely matter.”

Darrin recommends WinField United’s Warden® Cereals II, which is formulated with three highly active fungicides. For long-lasting, systematic protection against insects during crucial early-season crop development, he suggests ResonateTM 480 ST. He recommends also treating seed with a growth regulator like AscendSL® to aid in germination, promote good emergence, and create a greater root mass. WinField United also offers the convenient Warden Cereals 360, a premix that includes Warden Cereals II fungicides, Cruiser5FS® insecticide, and AscendSL growth regulator.

“Determining the rate for each seed treatment component, a pre-mix, or custom slurry really comes down to cost per active ingredient per acre,” says Darrin. “There’s a big range of rates and options, and it’s really about choosing the best control plan for your dollar.”

Harvesting a profitable wheat crop this year — and most every year — is dependent on an intensive management strategy that will drive yield and efficiently utilize inputs. For advice on developing a wheat crop plan or recommendations for intensive management of your wheat crop, contact your local Co-op or regional WinField United agronomy experts. For more information about WinField United and CROPLAN products, visit or

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