Wheat School: Assessing stand establishment

Rob McLaughlin and Peter Johnson

Thick stand? Thin stand? How does your wheat look as the growing season revs up with mid-April heat?

In Ontario, RealAgriculture Agronomist Peter Johnson likes what he sees and says it’s time to get out, scout winter wheat fields and assess those stands. Looking back on data from the first two years of the Great Lakes Yield Enhancement Network (YEN), Johnson says it’s becoming very clear that high head counts drive yield.

At this time of year, the key factor determining potential head count is stem counts. On this episode of the RealAgriculture Wheat School, Johnson heads to the field with C&M Seeds sales and marketing manager Rob McLaughlin who demonstrates how growers can use the company’s stand assessment calculator to determine the potential number of heads per square foot.

See related: Wheat School: YEN results show grower decisions really matter

The first thing growers need to know is the row width. Next step is to measure one foot of row and count the number of plants per 12 inches and then determine the average number of tillers per plant. In this field, the Stand Assessment Calculator estimates the field will hit a whopping 144 heads per square foot. Johnson says that’s well above the highest counts ever seen in the YEN program, which have topped out at around 120 heads per square foot. (Story continues after the video.)

With an estimate of head numbers, growers can then make management decisions to optimize wheat production. In this case, with a huge stem count, McLaughlin says an obvious first step is to delay nitrogen application. “We don’t want to create any more tillers in this field,” he stresses.

Johnson says it’s tough for anxious growers to delay nitrogen application. If growers do opt to apply, “keep that rate really low — 50, 60 pounds of nitrogen, 70 at the very most.”

The high stem count also creates significant risk of lodging. In this case, Johnson says a plant growth regulator (or maybe two applications) may be warranted. Growers also need to factor in the straw strength of the variety.

Click here for more Wheat School videos.

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