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Published July 15, 2013, 09:42 AM

Plant cover now for winter wheat

While U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies work to determine whether their initial estimate of 2 million prevented planting acres in North Dakota is correct, many farmers are scrambling to deal with those cropless parcels.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — While U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies work to determine whether their initial estimate of 2 million prevented planting acres in North Dakota is correct, many farmers are scrambling to deal with those cropless parcels.

Blake Vander Vorst, senior agronomist for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, N.D., says winter wheat acreage had increased to nearly 750,000 in 2011, but dipped to fewer than 350,000 in 2013, largely because of the dry fall conditions. “We’re thinking it could go back up (to 2011 levels) again” in 2013 seedings for the 2014 crop, he says.

Vander Vorst says the region where winter wheat might be most applicable is in an area north of a line from Williston along the “prairie coteau” to Turtle Lake, swinging to the northeast corner of the state. Ducks Unlimited says wild bird nesting is 24 times more successful on winter wheat than on spring-planted wheat. His organization is encouraging farmers to think about timely planting of cover crops and other snow-catching crops to improve survivability of the winter wheat.

Joel Ransom, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist for cereal crops, says farmers should start now to prepare fields for a follow-crop of winter wheat, assuming the flooded fields weren’t planted to spring wheat. Farmers must protect the land from wind and water erosion to remain eligible for direct and counter-cyclical farm programs.

In drier parts of the state, use chemical fallow to control weeds and conserve moisture.

In wetter areas, and where adequate standing residue isn’t available, establish a cover crop with flax, or some appropriate crop followed later by winter wheat. Winter wheat is a low-risk option that can be fertilized in the spring, or replaced with another crop, adds Hans Kandel, an NDSU Extension broadleaf crop specialist.

Here are some specific recommendations:

• Flax strips — Set the drill at a high seeding rate of 40 to 60 pounds per acre and tape drill spouts shut for a desired spacing 3 to 5 feet apart. Flax strips 10 feet apart are common in some areas, but aren’t effective for consistent snow collection, which is critical to the survival of winter wheat, Vander Vorst says.

• Solid-seeded flax — Seed at 6 to 8 pounds per acre, Vander Vorst says.

• Cereal cover — Oats or barley don’t have as strong a straw as desired for snow collection, but might be used to draw down moisture levels. This must be done before the last week in July for sufficient biomass. Planting should be done at 30 pounds per acre. Use glyphosate or some appropriate herbicide to kill the cover crop for the two-week period if no grassy plants are established to break the so-called “green bridge.” The main objective is to interrupt the life cycle of the wheat curl mite that carries wheat streak mosaic virus.

• Volunteer canola — Use any volunteer canola as a stubble source if plant populations are adequate and relatively uniform. Terminate the canola before seed production.

• Insurance rules — Most insurance policies don’t allow planting an insurable cover crop before the end date of its late planting period — which ended at the end of June.

Vander Vorst says some growers in some past Septembers have gotten ready to plant winter wheat but on black ground, and wished they had planted a cover crop to reduce the risk of winter kill.

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