By Calvin Trostle, Texas AgriLife Extension Agronomist
Essentially all the Texas wheat crop is in the ground. This includes wheat for grazing or grain (or both). Abnormally dry and moderate drought conditions exist across much of central Texas, but fortunately most of the High Plains wheat production region has seen dry conditions alleviate since the end of September.
I still have a little wheat left to drill. There are still a few scattered acres likely in the High Plains that have yet to be drilled. This may be due to late harvest on cotton. At low wheat prices there is less incentive to go ahead and get that last wheat drilled.
But if you are still drilling now in early December, anticipate that yield potential is likely about 75% of wheat planted vs. optimum planting dates (in the High Plains case, the month of October).
To compensate partially for lower yield potential, AgriLife Extension recommends you increase your seeding rate at least 1/3 to possibly 1/2. This will adjust for the lower degree of tillering in later-planted wheat.
What is the fertility status of my wheat fields? If you believe your wheat fertility status, specifically for nitrogen (N) may be low, then you should consider advancing forward some of your spring topdress N. It is wholly appropriate to soil test for N in the late fall/early winter if you are unsure of soil nutrient status.
The crop is growing only slowly and has not used much N yet. And it will not until the burst of growth comes in late winter as the crops develop toward jointing. A soil test even now is still highly valuable for understanding plant nitrogen needs.
You may review some of the principles of topdress N, which are applicable now if you believe current soil N status is low. See here.
Are there potential insect issues in my winter wheat from now till spring growth? There may be. Some folks are suggesting worm issues might be higher in winter wheat due to long-term predictions of warmer wheat. Aphid issues in the winter wheat currently are not common.
Winter is a good time to review insect information for your wheat crop. Consult the wheat & small grains insect information for Texas A&M AgriLife here The most recent edition was published in 2017 (ENTO-084)
There are large expanding dead spots in my wheat. What is going on? I receive this call every year. My first question: “Is this continuous wheat that for 4 or 5 years or more?” If so, then there is a good change the problem is the feeding of white grubs, the larval stage of June bugs.
These large grubs sever the entire wheat root system in the fall right below the crown. You can find them easily by digging soil to about 8” deep, particularly in the transition zone between dead plants and normal plants. There is little effective control.
I wrote about this topic in detail for Row Crops Newsletter in 2015. You can see the full article here.
Crop rotation is most likely needed to break the cycle. In the meantime, as conditions cool the grubs move deeper in the soil and thus do not damage the entire root system. Wheat survives. So, drill in those blank spots so you will still have growth for spring grazing or grain.