How to properly evaluate winter wheat stand survival

Ontario winter wheat growers have been expecting an unimpressive winter wheat stand, but early feedback from farmers and agronomists is proving that the 2019 crop may be even worse than expected. The sooner farmers can evaluate wheat stands properly the better, but conditions haven’t been conducive to the crop breaking dormancy.

If the crop looks rough, how do you know if you’ve got enough there to make yield potential?

“Ideally, we need to see a minimum of ten plants per foot of row,” says Peter Johnson, agronomist with RealAgriculture. Yes, you may have heard seven, but the tougher the stand is, the more plants per foot of row needed to make even 95% yield potential. At 10 plants, assuming two tillers each, that should get you to the 47 heads per square foot, Johnson says, assuming the crop is uniform.

Although counting plants down the row is necessary get a stand count, you also need to look across the rows as well.  As Johnson says, “it always looks better if you look down the rows. As you look across the rows, the dead spots attract your attention. “It can look bad, but maybe it’s five, or eight, or 10 per cent that’s actually gone.”

Our human brains are drawn either to the good (down the row), or only the bad (across the rows), so to best evaluate objectively aerial imagery may be the most accurate. The lack of green up is complicating things, however, as Johnson says we just don’t have enough growth yet. So scout, scout, scout and do those counts.

If the stand is worth keeping, do you fill dead spots or leave them? Open soil will just become weedy, so choose either clover, another cereal, or even soybeans.

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