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The end of winter has come and temperatures are rising, which means wheat growers in the Northern Plains are vigorously preparing for spring planting. If the strange yet abundant 2012 season is any indication, decisions made this time of year can have a significant impact down the road. Here are several factors for growers to consider as they get set to plant.
Winter woes, surging spring
The 2012 drought brought worries to many wheat growers around the U.S., and for good reason – throughout much of the country, particularly the Great Plains, the winter crop was in poor condition for the entire season. In the Northern Plains, however, it recovered quite well after a slow start.
“Winter wheat went into the soil very dry. We were a little concerned at first," said Brian Jenks, Ph.D., North Dakota State University weed scientist. “But about mid- to late September, we started getting some precipitation and finally got some growth. In North Dakota, the crop looks generally favorable."
Generally, the dry weather ended up not severely damaging winter wheat. That said, some growers who planted early saw their winter wheat fail to survive upon emergence in the cold, dry weather. For these growers, wheat is a good option this spring, according to David Boehm, cereals key account manager, Syngenta.
“A lot of the wheat that didn’t make it through the winter should be converted into the spring crop," Boehm said. “We could have a pretty strong rebound this year."
Growers might be looking to plant wheat early as many forecasters predict temperatures to warm up quicker than usual this spring. Before rushing out to plant, however, moisture levels also have to be taken into consideration.
“If you have early spring with high moisture, that’s a lot different than early spring with low moisture," Jenks said. “Adequate moisture will get the crop off to a better start and make the crop much more competitive with weeds."
Spreading risk with variety
Last year’s drought also impacted this spring’s seed selection decisions. Beyond the usual considerations – including yield, test weight, stability, disease tolerance and performance in university trials – growers are seeking ways to protect their crops from nature’s curveballs.
“Diversity is your friend," Boehm said. “Choosing to incorporate multiple seed varieties can help minimize the season’s inevitable unpredictability, which is why we are seeing growers diversify."
Some varieties – particularly those that mature early – better withstand drought but can have smaller yield potential. On the flip side, long-maturing varieties have higher yield potential but are more vulnerable to stress later in the season if it’s a dry year.
“As they say, you want to spread risk," Boehm said. “In addition, planting certified seed varieties helps ensure genetic purity, smoother plantability, seed vigor and early germination and emergence."
Protection from the start
The next important consideration for growers is to invest in seed treatments. Josh Messer, agronomist at Plains Grain and Agronomy in North Dakota, calls them essential for a successful spring wheat crop.
“Seed treatments promote early germination, healthy root development, early crop vigor and good plant establishment," Messer said. “In western North Dakota, for example, crown rot is common. Here in the Northern Plains, we recommend seed treatments to help protect against crown rot and other soilborne diseases and insects."
Healthy stands produce more vigorous crops that are better able to tolerate adverse weather conditions and pest pressure throughout the season. Seed treatments like CruiserMaxx® Vibrance™ Cereals combination insecticide/fungicide boost RootingPower to help wheat establish stronger, healthier root systems that result in a more productive crop and increased yield and profit potential. CruiserMaxx Vibrance Cereals also combines best-in-class Rhizoctonia activity with broad-spectrum insect and disease protection, controlling pests such as Pythium, common bunt, loose smut and Fusarium.
“Just because you use a seed treatment doesn’t mean you shouldn’t continually scout your field throughout the growing season, but it is one of the best ways to start everything off on the right foot," Boehm said.
As always, preparation is key.
“Despite the turbulence of 2012, last year turned out to be a pretty good year for wheat across the board," Boehm said. “Spring wheat yields were good. Quality was good. With proper planning, I think spring wheat has the potential to be very successful in 2013."
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