Late-planted spring wheat showing less drought stress in central ND

Usually, spring wheat planted earlier yields better, but early drought conditions in central North Dakota mean that wheat planted a little later looks better.

WILTON, N.D. — Central North Dakota hasn’t had the most ideal growing season in 2020, and that’s led to a mixed bag of crop conditions.

Jamie Schurhamer, agronomy lead for Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton, was standing in a field of Spitfire spring wheat on July 20. The field was planted in early May, a little later than ideal for spring wheat. Usually, the earlier cereal crops are seeded the better, giving them adequate time to grow and develop before the heat of summer sets in. But this year, that early drought in central North Dakota put stress on crops that went in on time.

“April seeded cereals look really bad,” Schurhamer said.

Spring wheat planted in May in Wilton, N.D., at Hefty Seeds looks to be an average crop. Photo taken July 20, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

But the field of Spitfire was able to hold on until the rains came. The rains, however, came in such quantity that it put a different strain on crops.


Jamie Schuhamer, agronomy lead at Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton, expects protein to be high in the 2020 spring wheat crop in the Wilton, N.D., area. Photo taken July 20, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

“Our earlier crops are a little beat up, and then when we did get rain, we really produced a lot of disease environment,” Schurhamer said.

May-planted spring wheat in Wilton, N.D., has overcome early stress from drought. But heavy rains that came after dry conditions created an environment ripe for disease, leading to browning of leaves. Photo taken July 20, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

He pointed out brown spots on the flagleaf of plants, a result of disease stress. But looking at the heads on the wheat, he still anticipates 60 to 65 bushel per acre yields. That’s less than the target of 80 to 85 bushels, but still average. He also anticipates protein will be high.

Jamie Schurhamer, agronomy lead for Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton, holds some spring wheat plants in a late-planted field in Wilton, N.D., on July 20, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton has planted a number of plots of different crops at their Wilton facility, located at the intersection of Highways 83 and 36.

While Jamie Schurhamer, agronomy lead at Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton, says the heads on durum in Wilton, N.D., are shorter than ideal, he still expects above-average yields for the crop in the area. Photo taken July 20, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Across Highway 83 to the west from the Hefty shop is a large durum field. On July 20, it was all headed out and in the early stages of turning from green to gold. Schurhamer said there is more durum in central North Dakota than last year because of market premiums. The heads on the durum in the Hefty field aren’t as long as Schurhamer would like — 12 spikelets versus 16 — but it’s still a promising field.


“What we’re seeing is a nice full head,” he said. “I still think we’ve got a pretty good potential up here, 70 to 80 bushel durum,” he said.

Despite a difficult growing season thus far, the durum crop in the Wilton, N.D., looks good on July 20, 2020. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

The field is a few weeks off of harvest, and quality still needs to be protected.

“I think we’ve got a really nice durum crop,” Schurhamer said.

Market premiums helped increase the amount of durum planted in central North Dakota. Photo taken July 20, 2020, in Wilton, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

Wheat and durum used to be kings in central North Dakota. Corn and soybeans, over the years, have cut into acreage for those crops, as ethanol plants provided corn markets and soybean varieties improved to account for drier conditions. But, Schurhamer said, wheat and durum still play an important role.

“When everything is down, if you have more than just corn and beans, you have more opportunity to turn profits, more market potential,” he said. “We’re lucky enough to be able to grow a lot of crops in this area.”

Research continues at Hefty

Besides testing out their own seeds, Hefty also is doing research plots on seeds with a variety of products from partnering companies.


Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton is doing tissue testing on spring wheat to monitor nutrient levels in plants. In late July 2020, they are testing the flagleaves of plants. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

A few plots over from the Spitfire plot is one of Murdock spring wheat that has been treated with a variety of Bayer products. The field was planted much later than normal so that it would have been near maturity in September, at a planned and canceled field day. While the field day won’t happen, Schurhamer and his staff are still doing weekly tissue testing for levels of nutrients in the field. In part because of how the late planting coincided with the late-coming rains, the plot looks promising.

A flag in a spring wheat field at Hefty Seed of Hurdsfield and Wilton marks where tissue samples are taken from plants to measure nutrient levels. Photo taken July 20, 2020, in Wilton, N.D. (Jenny Schlecht / Agweek)

The tissue sampling isn’t the only research going on at Hefty. They’re also trying to see how planting corn next to shorter crops — to maximize sunlight on the corn — influences yields in both crops. Hefty is trying soybeans next to corn while others are trying wheat next to corn. Schurhamer said it’s promising research that he could see boosting corn yields 25% to 30% with yields of the shorter crops taking only a small hit.

Jenny Schlecht is the director of ag content for Agweek and serves as editor of Agweek, Sugarbeet Grower and BeanGrower. She lives on a farm and ranch near Medina, North Dakota, with her husband and two daughters. You can reach her at or 701-595-0425.
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