History shows that in years following a summer drought, we as farmers have a tendency to abandon our typical farm crop rotations and plant more wheat than we normally would. This was especially true before the crop insurance programs that we have today. One pitfall we need to watch is not to plant wheat behind corn if at all possible.
I remember well in 1980 following the drought most producers, including myself, planted a lot more wheat than normal. Many of us planted the majority of these acres following failed corn, or corn silage. First, we needed cash flow and wheat was the next crop that we could harvest after the drought. Secondly, we were in desperate need of livestock feed. Sounds pretty similar to this year.
In 1981 we had a very wet spring. Most producers in the area had a terrible time trying to harvest the wheat crop and many resorted to putting tracks on combines or just abandoning the crop. The wheat that was harvested contained vomitoxins and had scab. In those days we did not have the knowledge nor the chemistry to handle the challenges that faced us so that crop turned into a failure as well.
Today we are better equipped and educated to handle these problems. Wheat has become an even more important crop in recent years with many producers choosing the importance of this crop over corn. When intensively managed and marketed ,wheat net returns could easily exceed the net returns of corn for many producers in the state .
One important thing to remember when planting wheat is not to abandon a good crop rotation. Corn and wheat are both members of the grass family. This is important because both of these crops share some common diseases. One such disease is head scab in wheat. This disease is always more prevalent when wheat is planted behind a corn crop.
Head scab is caused by a fungus called “fusarium graminearum” this is the same fungus that causes stalk and ear rot in corn. By planting wheat behind corn the odds of having disease problems with scab and vomitoxins increase considerably.
If you have to plant wheat behind corn here are a few tips that could pay big dividends next spring:
- Till the ground well and bury as much of the corn stubble as possible. This will reduce, but not eliminate the presence of this fungus .
- Choose a variety of wheat that is scab resistant. Choosing a scab resistant variety is always important but even more so when following corn. Talk to your seed supplier early and reserve seed that meets this criteria.
- Plan now to apply a fungicide on wheat during flowering to reduce the impact of the increased fungus pressure. Remember when we can see the damage to the wheat plant it is generally too late to spray so be proactive and prepared at flowering. This pressure will increase significantly if we have warm wet conditions during flowering.
On my operation I generally plan on 2 applications of fungicide. The first application is to protect the flag leaf and the second to protect the head from head scab. Multiple applications of fungicide does get expensive but for my operation the rewards seem to justify the cost.
Wheat diseases over the past 10 years have caused some producers to reduce the planting of this crop in their normal rotation, but by following these tips and good management practices most wheat diseases can be managed fairly well.