As winter begins to wind down and the first warm spell of the year arrives in March, many growers are most likely anxious to get into the field. However, ideal weather for spring field work may not be right around the corner. As of the beginning of March, 88% of the Great Lakes were still covered with ice and extended forecasts were calling for colder than normal weather to last into April. Should these predictions be correct, Ohio’s farmers may be looking at a slow start to spring in addition to many other challenges.
One area of concern some producers may have after experiencing harsh winter weather is the current condition of winter wheat stands. Are they sufficient to produce a profitable wheat crop? According an article in a 2014 C.O.R.N. Newsletter written by Laura Lindsey, Ed Lentz, Pierce Paul, “Fields should not be evaluated until completely green from warmer temperatures for at least 10 to 14 days. Stand evaluations will be more accurate when made during weather periods that promote growth. Yield potential is reduced if tiller numbers fall below 25 per square foot after green up.” Waiting 10 to 14 days after green up to assess wheat stands is critical to making correct management decisions.
Another wheat question that agronomists have been asked this year is, “What is the right time to apply spring nitrogen?” The winter wheat crop does not require an additional application of nitrogen until stem elongation (Feekes Growth Stage 6). Because spring weather can make it a challenge to apply nitrogen in a timely manner under ideal field conditions, university experts and agronomists agree that nitrogen can be applied between green up and Feekes Growth Stage 6. This window of application timing will maximize yields and give the grower flexibility to avoid field work when soils are too wet. Keep in mind, applying N before green up will result in N losses and lower yields — this is not a sound management practice as far as agronomics or economics are concerned.
Research has proven that early planting is one management practice that leads to increased yields, but, if extended forecasts are correct, farmers may be looking at delayed planting this spring. Although planting early is important, it is just one of many factors that affect yield. Planting early favors high yields, but does not guarantee them. “Mudding-in” seed early to beat a certain date on the calendar will almost always guarantee problems throughout the growing season. To avoid problems such as compaction, poor emergence, poor root development, and replant, growers should only plant early if field and weather conditions are conducive to adequate seed germination and plant growth. Planting should only occur when soil is dry enough to avoid compaction and soil temperatures are 50 degrees F or higher. This will ensure that the best possible conditions for germination and stand establishment exist.
Finally, an issue that must continue to be addressed by Ohio’s farmers is the growing populations of herbicide resistant weeds. If we have a wet spring and burndown applications are delayed, controlling weeds could also become a bigger challenge. Herbicide resistant populations of weeds such as marestail and giant ragweed have existed for several years and are a growing problem across the state. A few new additions to the list of herbicide resistant weeds have arrived recently, including Palmer amaranth. Now more than ever, it is critical that growers focus on employing effective herbicide programs. Controlling these weeds will require attention to details such as timing of herbicide applications, using multiple modes of action, use of residual herbicides, and scouting to determine what weeds are present and if any were not controlled by herbicides.
There is a wealth of information available from universities which growers can and should consult in order to stay ahead of problem weeds. For successful weed control, apply herbicides when weeds are small enough to be controlled, always follow herbicide labels, and avoid using low rates of herbicides. Additionally, any Palmer amaranth escapes must be pulled by hand before they go to seed.
No matter what challenges are predicted for the 2015 growing season, the successful grower will be the one who observes what is happening in the field, keeps up to date on important agronomic information, and makes timely and sound decisions based on that information.