Wheat can help farms in many ways, ag official says

Adding wheat to a crop rotation can be challenging. It can also make good sense, an Extension official says.

Wheat can play important roles in crop rotations. (Erin Ehnle Brown / Grand Vale Creative LLC)

Jared Goplen understands that growing wheat may not appeal to many area farmers including ones in Minnesota. But the the University of Minnesota extension educator thinks they might to do well to consider it anyway.

The region's diverse weather is just one of the reasons to do so.

"Some years, we have really good corn weather. Other years, we have really good small grain weather. A lot of times they don't necessarily overlap that well. It (growing wheat) does help to help hedge some of that risk as far as weather," he said.

Goplen spoke Jan. 12 during the 2021 Virtual Small Grains Update Meeting. The event, sponsored by University of Minnesota Extension, Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers, Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association and Minnesota Corn Growers Association, was open to the news media.

Though spring wheat is grown across most of the state, northwest Minnesota dominates the state's production of the crop. Farmers elsewhere in the state are far likelier to grow just corn and soybeans. Spring wheat generally doesn't produce as much income per acre as corn and soybeans, discouraging farmers from growing it, especially at a time when profit margins are tight.


Goplen noted that some Minnesota farmers are thinking about adding wheat as a third or fourth wheat crop in addition to their existing corn, soybeans and possibly sugar beets.

There are valid reasons to grow at least three or even four crops in a rotation, Goplen said.

Corn needs a one-year break to maximize yields and doesn't benefit from a longer break. In practice, that means a corn-soybeans rotation suffices to bolster corn yields. Soybeans, in contrast, benefit from having a break of more than one year, so having three crops — wheat potentially among them — is desirable, he said.

"Sequencing" — the order in which different crops are grown in a rotation — is important and adds to the improved yield in a three- or four-crop rotation, he said.

Improving crops' weed resistance, a huge and growing concern for area farmers, is another reason to add wheat in a rotation. Already in North Dakota and northwest Minnesota, " 16 weed species we know" have resistance to pesticides, Goplen said. "(The problem of) resistance isn't going away. So we need to think about strategies to manage resistance."

Adding wheat to a rotation also can help deal with disease and insects.

"It's certainly not going to be a cure-all, but it will have some level of affect, he said.

Spreading out the workload is another potential benefit to adding wheat, Goplen said. Wheat generally is harvested in August or early September, while corn and soybeans are harvested in late September, October, November and occasionally in December.

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