Wheat seed quality may be suspect for fall planting

Seed quality for fall wheat planting in the Southwest may be iffy at best, hard to find at the very least and likely more expensive than usual.

Also, wheat specialists from Texas A&M AgriLife Extension recommend seed from the 2009 crop be thoroughly tested for germination and vigor.

It’s been a tough year for wheat. Drought throughout much of the Southwest hampered growth from the outset and hard freezes in late March and early April further damaged an already hard-hit crop.

Buying certified seed, if it’s available, may be the best bet, if growers can locate enough of their favorite varieties. “We may be short of certified seed,” said Texas AgriLife assistant research scientist Russ Sutton at the North Texas Small Grains Field Day in Leonard, Texas. “That means it could be more expensive, too,” he said.

The Texas Department of Agriculture may allow certified wheat growers to recertify some fields for one year, he said. That decision will be made in early June. Harvest will be well under way by then and TDA will have a better handle on 2009 crop production and fall planting needs.

Sutton said farmers who recertify wheat fields must keep that seed separate.

He said farmers who save seed from this year’s crop should “make certain of germination. Watch saved seed this year.”

Texas Extension integrated pest management specialist Jim Swart said wheat seed that had freeze damage could be trouble as saved seed. “If seed with freeze damage goes to the elevator at 13 percent moisture there will be some seed that’s not dried and it will spoil. This may be a good year to sell the grain and buy new seed in the fall.”

He said farmers may stretch their seed supply by reducing seeding rate. “We often plant too much seed,” he said. “We can cut back to 85 pounds to 90 pounds per acre. I’ll take 60 pounds of certified seed over any rate of poorer quality seed any time.”

Swart said certified seed does offer advantages with vigor, germination and disease resistance over non-certified. “Farmers can save seed and plant over and over but they have to keep it pure,” he said. “Also, disease resistance may diminish over time. Races of rust may change, for instance, and resistance may not hold.”

Sutton said wheat varieties planted across a wide area likely will not hold resistance as long as those planted in a relatively narrow region.

Growers also quizzed specialists on Hessian fly issues. Allen Knutson, Extension entomologist, said removing volunteer wheat should be a first line of defense against infestation. “Volunteer wheat is the main host,” he said, “But we probably have some grasses that also host the fly.”

“I’ve seen Hessian fly following soybeans,” Swart said, “so we probably have other hosts.”

He said planting oats for grazing instead of wheat may be a good option, too. “Oats are not a host and they provide good forage.”

Knutson said predicting fly emergence is difficult, as is estimating the length of time adults will be vulnerable to control measures. “It all depends on weather conditions,” he said. “We have no good idea when they come out (from the soil).”

He said fall rains favor Hessian fly emergence. “If it’s dry in the fall, we don’t see much of a problem. But if we get rain, we see early emergence. That’s why destroying volunteer wheat by late August or early September is a good idea.”

Swart said insecticide treatments have not been effective. “Once the larvae are in the plant stems, we can’t get to them. We have to go after the adults by trapping and then spraying with a (labeled) pyrethroid. But we’re not always certain when they emerge. Early emergers (before wheat is up) are suicide emergers if we delay planting.”

Knutson said getting rid of volunteer wheat also eliminates a host plant for greenbugs and other damaging insect pests.

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