Dry soil has delayed wheat emergence. On October 20, we travelled to the Northwest Agricultural Research Station in Wood County to do a wheat stand count. However, we didn’t find anything to count, and the wheat was planted on October 1. Similar trends are being observed in other locations across the state – wheat is taking an unusually long time to emerge or only just emerged after being planted for more than a week (or a month). In our plots, the wheat seeds were still in good condition, but the soil was just too cool and dry for the seeds to germinate and emerge. (As a side note, our wheat field was tilled. The no-till fields retained more moisture and had emerged.) Since then, with some rainfall and slightly warmer temperatures, the wheat has emerged, and we are heading back up to do a stand count this week.
As usual, what happens next depends on the weather. Wheat that emerges late and enters winter dormancy with few very small tillers has reduced winter hardiness. However, if freezing weather does not occur until late November or early December, wheat that emerges late may still develop three to four tillers, which helps to reduce winter-kill, and may still yield similarly to wheat that emerged in a timely manner.
Currently, we are in the process of revising the recommendations for the minimum wheat stand required for profitable wheat production. Our preliminary data (based on two locations of research in 2015) indicates that with <38 wheat shoots (main stem + tillers) in a linear foot of row at the Feekes 5 growth stage (green-up), wheat yield is reduced to <75 bushels/acre. As wheat greens up in the spring, we recommend examining your field for the number of wheat shoots. However, for now, if your wheat has not yet emerged, dig up a few seeds to see if they are still healthy-looking. Once they are in good shape, they should emerge and develop well enough before the harsh weather kicks in. Let’s hope that is stays warm over the next few weeks.