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Northwestern / north central Oklahoma wheat update – drought, greenbugs, and freeze

Dr. Hunger traveled southwest Oklahoma this week, so I made a trip out Hwy. 60 yesterday to evaluate freeze injury and assess the overall condition of the wheat crop in northwestern and north central Oklahoma. Last week’s warm temperatures and wind have taken their toll on wheat in Kay, Grant, and eastern Garfield Counties. It is not too late for rain to save a partial wheat crop in these areas, but the “full yield potential” ship sailed long ago. Wheat sown behind summer crops is the hardest hit, and wheat in these fields could best be described as yellow and thin. If the weather turned and we received rain in the next week, I would predict that yield potential in these fields would still only be around the 15 bushel mark. Without rain, subtract around 15 bushels. Wheat planted behind summer fallow has held on a little longer, but is clearly showing the signs of extreme drought stress. If we receive rain in the next week (and continue to see rain) these fields could still make 20 – 30 bushels per acre. In the absence of rain in the near future, they will be 10 bushels per acre or less.

Wheat in the Lamont test plot was approximately GS 7 - 8. Flag leaves were rolled and plants were starting to abort tillers.

Wheat in the Lamont test plot was approximately GS 7 – 8. Flag leaves were rolled and plants were starting to abort tillers.

 

In addition to drought stress, we found freeze injury and greenbugs at Lamont. I was a little surprised to find freeze injury and even more surprised to find the greatest injury in the later-maturing varieties. We split several stems of early varieties such as Ruby Lee and Gallagher and did not find any injury. These varieties would have likely been at approximately GS 7 – 8 when the freeze occurred. We found significant injury in later-maturing varieties such as Endurance, but these varieties were likely only GS 6 – 7 when the freeze occurred. Conventional wisdom regarding freeze injury is that the more advanced the variety, the greater the likelihood of freeze injury. After seeing the same phenomenon last year (i.e. the greatest injury in later maturing varieties) I am changing my thinking on freeze injury and now say that all bets are off when it comes to freeze injury in drought stressed wheat.

Freeze injury was greatest in late-maturing varieties at Lamont.

Freeze injury was greatest in late-maturing varieties at Lamont.

 

Overall wheat condition started to improve around Nash and Jet, I would say that much of the wheat in this area is CURRENTLY in fair to good condition. I emphasize the currently in the previous sentence, as the only difference between wheat in the Cherokee area and wheat to the east was about one week’s worth of moisture. Some terrace ridges had already started turning blue and moisture was starting to run out. Without rain wheat in this area will rapidly deteriorate from good to poor. One consistent theme throughout the day was greenbugs. Many sites had evidence of parasitic wasp activity (i.e. aphid mummies), but the presence or absence of parasitic wasp activity varied field by field. Dr. Royer has indicated that greenbugs still need to be controlled in drought stressed wheat. If parasitic wasps are active, the best decision is to let them do the aphid killing for you. If no mummies are present, then insecticide control could be justified. The only sure way to make this determination is to use the glance-n-go sampling system.

 

Greenbugs were alive and well at Lamont

Greenbugs were alive and well at Lamont

Parasitic wasps were keeping greenbug populations under control in this field

Parasitic wasps were keeping greenbug populations under control in this field

Active and parasitized greenbugs on the same plant

Active and parasitized greenbugs on the same plant

 

Similar to Lamont, we found freeze injury in the Cherokee and Helena areas. Many of the worst looking fields (extensive leaf burn) had only superficial injury and should recover if moisture allows. Conversely, some plants that showed no outward signs of freeze injury had injured heads within.  Most fields I surveyed had less than 10% injury, but one field was a complete loss. On the surface the 10% injury field and 100% loss field looked the same, so I cannot over stress the importance of splitting stems. I have received a few additional reports of freeze injury from Kay County this morning, so it is important for producers throughout northern Oklahoma to evaluate their wheat on a field by field basis.

 

Plants that look healthy on the exterior could contain damaged wheat heads

Plants that look healthy on the exterior could contain damaged wheat heads

A closeup of the damaged wheat head from the picture above

A closeup of the damaged wheat head from the picture above

Although freeze injury to plant tissue in this field was severe, the wheat heads were mostly left unscathed

Although freeze injury to plant tissue in this field was severe, the wheat heads were mostly left unscathed

A closeup of a head from the freeze-injured wheat shown above. Although tissue damage is severe, the growing point and wheat head are still viable

A closeup of a head from the freeze-injured wheat shown above. Although tissue damage is severe, the growing point and wheat head are still viable

A final note on freeze injury. Freeze injury appeared to be worst in no-till fields and in areas where residue was heaviest. Based on my observations, this was not due to winterkill or poor seed to soil contact. My best explanation is that the lack of soil cover in conventional till fields allowed stored heat to radiate from the soil surface and slightly warm the crop canopy. The insulating effect of residue in no-till fields did not allow radiant heating to occur. Given the pattern of freeze injury in fields with varying degrees of residue across the field, I feel pretty confident in this analysis of what occurred.

Please use the comment section to share pictures or descriptions of wheat in your area.

Time to start topdressing wheat

There are few crop inputs that deliver as much return on investment as nitrogen fertilizer. It takes approximately two pounds of nitrogen, costing approximately $1.00, to produce one bushel of grain worth about $5.00. Of course, nitrogen is not the only yield determining factor in a wheat crop. Also, the law of diminishing marginal returns eventually kicks in, but nitrogen fertilizer is still one of the safest bets in the house.

Top dress nitrogen fertilizer is especially important because it is applied and utilized at a time when the plant is transitioning from vegetative to reproductive growth. Several things, including the number of potential grain sites, are determined just prior to jointing and it is imperative that the plant has the fuel it needs to complete these tasks. Jointing also marks the beginning of rapid nitrogen uptake by the plant which is used to build new leaves, stem, and the developing grain head. The nitrogen stored in these plant parts will be used to fill the grain later in the season, and the plant is dependent on this stored nitrogen to complete grain fill.

In the bullet points below, I will hit the major points regarding top dress nitrogen for wheat.  I have also posted three slide presentations with audio regarding topdressing wheat at my YouTube channel available by clicking here or by searching YouTube for OSU Small Grains. 

When to apply

  • In order to have full benefit, nitrogen must be in the rooting zone by the time wheat is jointing. Jointing occurs around the end of February in southern OK and around the second week of March in northern OK.
  • Moisture is required to move nitrogen into the rooting zone. Since precipitation is usually very limited in January and February in Oklahoma we need the nitrogen out on the field when the precipitation arrives. This, along with the fact that we have 5.5 million acres to cover, means that we need to get started in January to get everything taken care of in a timely fashion.
  • If you are using the Sensor Based Nitrogen Recommendation system your yield predictions and nitrogen recommendations generally become more accurate as the season progresses; however, growers wishing to hedge their nitrogen bet could apply a partial top dress in January or early February and supplement with a second top dress just prior to jointing if SBNR recommendations call for additional nitrogen.
  • Do not apply nitrogen to frozen ground. Nitrogen will move with water. If melting snow or frozen rain is moving to the ditch, so will nitrogen applied to the soil surface.
  • Consider splitting or delaying top dress nitrogen applications to sandy soils until closer to jointing, as leaching can occur.

How much to apply

  • On average it takes about 2 lbs/ac of N for every bushel of wheat yield. In addition, dual-purpose wheat requires 30 lbs/ac of N for every 100 lbs/ac of beef removed. You can subtract your soil test NO3-N from these total requirements.
  • It is okay to adjust topdress N plans based on your current yield potential. When you submitted your soil test, you might have stated a 50 bu/ac yield goal which would require 100 lbs/ac of nitrogen; however, it is important to take a hard look and determine if this yield goal is still realistic based on your current crop status. I am not suggesting to adjust based on what you think the weather might do, but it is okay to take inventory and adjust your topdress N up or down based on current field conditions.
  • Don’t have an N-rich strip? It would be a lot cooler if you did. An N-rich strip would take the guess work out of adjusting your topdress N up or down based on your current crop conditions. Your county extension educator can provide more information on N-rich strips and you can find more information on the web at www.npk.okstate.edu

What source to use

  • The plant does not care about nitrogen source. A pound of nitrogen is a pound of nitrogen. Focus on getting the correct amount applied at the correct time, and choose your product based on price and application uniformity.
  • Use a source that can be applied uniformly. In my experience, spinner trucks or buggies are generally the least uniform. Air trucks or streamers are the most uniform.
  • Streamer nozzles almost eliminate leaf burn from UAN; however, leaf burn is generally not an issue until temperatures warm and/or you are applying fairly large amounts of UAN. Stream nozzles are also not affected much by wind and deliver a uniform pattern in a variety of conditions. There are also some studies that indicate banding of UAN through the use of stream nozzles will reduce nitrogen immobilization on crop residue. All in all, I am a big fan of streamer nozzles. You cannot, however, tank mix herbicides when using streamer nozzles.
    Streamer nozzles provide uniform application of UAN in a wide variety of environmental conditions.

    Streamer nozzles provide uniform application of UAN in a wide variety of environmental conditions.

    Poor nitrogen application can result in a streaked field. Some of the areas in this field were over fertilized while some were under fertilized resulting in wasted nitrogen and less than optimal crop yield.

    Poor nitrogen application can result in a streaked field. Some of the areas in this field were over fertilized while some were under fertilized resulting in wasted nitrogen and less than optimal crop yield.

Planting wheat in hot soils

Kickoff of the college football season and the start of wheat planting are Labor Day traditions in the southern Great Plains. Many producers are waiting to see if rain forecasted for this weekend materializes, but it is likely that forage-based wheat farmers will start sowing wheat next week whether it rains or not. This means sowing wheat into hot soil conditions which can cause wheat germination and emergence issues. Given the potential problems, there are a few questions producers should ask themselves prior to planting into soil temperatures >90F.

coleoptile length

If the wheat coleoptile does not break the soil surface, the germinating wheat plant will not survive.

Will you have to plant deep to reach moisture? That first structure protruding from a germinating wheat seed is actually not a leaf. It is the coleoptile. The wheat coleoptile is a rigid structure whose sole purpose is to “punch through” the soil surface so that the first true leaf emerges above the soil surface. If this does not happen, the first true leaf will try to extend below the soil surface, turn yellow, and take on an accordion-like appearance (picture above). Modern semi-dwarf wheat varieties have shorter coleoptiles than older, tall wheat varieties and coleoptile length is shortened even further by hot soil conditions. So it is important to plant a variety with a longer coleoptile length (e.g. Garrison or Doans) if planting deeply into hot soils. A rating of coleoptile lengths for wheat varieties can be found in OSU Fact Sheet 2141 OSU Wheat Variety Comparison Chart available at www.wheat.okstate.edu or at the direct link to the publication here.

Is the variety high temperature germination sensitive? High temperature germination sensitivity is a fancy way of saying that some wheat varieties simply don’t germinate well in hot soil conditions (e.g. 2174, Overley). The extent of the sensitivity varies by year, so Overley might germinate fine in 95F soils one year and produce a 10% stand in the same soil conditions the next. When sowing early, it is best to plant varieties that do not have high temperature germination sensitivity (e.g. Duster, Gallagher, or Armour). Soil conditions generally cool due to lower ambient temperatures or cooling rains by about September 20; however our summer temperatures seem to be arriving late this year, so it is best to know the level of germination sensitivity in the variety you are planting. A rating of high temperature germination sensitivity for wheat varieties can be found in the variety comparison chart linked above. A more detailed explanation of the phenomenon can be found in OSU Fact Sheet PSS 2256 Factors affecting wheat germination and stand establishment in hot soils (available by clicking here).

Partial funding for the research included in this blog post was provided by USDA Project No.2012-02355 through the National Institute for Food and Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, Regional Approaches for Adaptation to and Mitigation of Climate Variability and Change

Pictures from southwest Oklahoma

I wanted to share a few pics from Rocky Thacker, Station Superintendent at the OSU Southwest Research and Extension Center near Altus, OK. These pictures were taken on April 8 and clearly show the extent of the current drought’s damage to the southwest Oklahoma wheat crop.

Altus Area Wheat-April 2014 001 Altus Area Wheat-April 2014 002 Altus Area Wheat-April 2014 004 Altus Area Wheat-April 2014 003

Oklahoma wheat update 03/28/2014

On Friday, March 28th I made a tour through northwestern Oklahoma to diagnose a few problem fields and get a better feel for the wheat crop condition. I have provided a brief description of what I saw below. I did not make it to southwestern Oklahoma this trip, but by all accounts the wheat is dry, brown, and barely hanging on. A best case scenario in areas southwest of Apache this year is a poor wheat crop. It will have to rain a lot between now and harvest for this to happen.

Reports from Apache eastward are somewhat better. The wheat crop in this area still has potential, but the potential is declining. A farmer from the Hinton area called yesterday and indicated that moisture could still be found about 1 inch below the soil surface, but the top is still very dry. We need a soaking rain to move nitrogen into the rooting zone and to perk the crop up post dormancy.

My first stop this morning was at Lamont. Wheat in this area is smaller than normal and is at approximately Feekes GS5. There were several yellow areas in fields and uneven wheat. Much of this yellowing appeared to be nitrogen deficiency, but not all of it was due to insufficient top dress nitrogen. We simply have not had enough moisture to get good movement of top dress N into the rooting profile and for the wheat crop to take up applied N. Some of the yellowing was also due to drought stress. Some of the yellowing could have been due to brown wheat mite and/or winter grain mite activity (described more below).

My second stop was at our Cherokee variety plots. Wheat in this area was uneven, similar to Lamont. As shown in the picture below, part of our plot area was showing significant yellowing. Initially, I thought this was due to changes in soil type/nutrient variability. Upon closer inspection, this area was infested with brown wheat mite. These symptoms have only started to show in the last week or so. Thanks to variety trial cooperator Kenneth Failes, this situation will be remedied as soon as the wind settles.

The yellow, stunted areas in our Cherokee variety trial were caused by brown wheat mite

The yellow, stunted areas in our Cherokee variety trial were caused by brown wheat mite

 

Next stop was Alva, where the trend of uneven and yellow wheat continued. As shown in the picture below, there were several fields in the area with spots of dead or nearly dead wheat. Brown wheat mites were found in most of these fields and probably weakened plants which increased the amount of winterkill. In some fields seed had been placed at the proper depth, but the seed trenches were partially filled with residue rather than soil. Residue provides less insulation than soil and likely made heavy residue areas more prone to winterkill. I also noticed in these fields that the crown of the plant had developed in residue rather than soil, which likely increased winterkill. I looked at additional no-till fields in the area with severe winter injury, but plants that were still viable. Grazed fields seemed to have greater injury than non-grazed.

Areas of winterkill in no-till wheat near Alva

Areas of winterkill in no-till wheat near Alva

 

Although seeded at the proper depth, some wheat plants in heavy residue areas had crown placement at the soil surface. This increased the severity of winterkill.

Although seeded at the proper depth, some wheat plants in heavy residue areas had crown placement at the soil surface. This increased the severity of winterkill.

I looked at a few fields south of Enid. Unlike the fields in Grant, Alfalfa, and Woods Counties, this primary issue in these fields was winter grain mite instead of brown wheat mite. The symptoms were areas of the field having a silver tint. Some areas had died or lost several tillers and these areas got bigger as the season progressed and dry conditions worsened.

Field affected by winter grain mite south of Enid. Note the silver tint of the wheat on the left side of the terrace.

Field affected by winter grain mite south of Enid. Note the silver tint of the wheat on the left side of the terrace.

 

I ended my tour at Marshall, Oklahoma where I did not find any insects, but did find some thirsty wheat. All of the insect issues I encountered today can be corrected with scouting and insecticides. Wheat winterkill was present, but rarely affected entire fields and was not that widespread. The primary concern for all of Oklahoma remains lack of moisture. There are some fields in north central and northwestern Oklahoma with good yield potential; however, the best areas are starting to turn blue due to lack of moisture. Another couple of weeks of warm temperatures and wind without rain will turn blue wheat to brown. We need moisture.

Planting wheat in hot soils

As is usually the case in Oklahoma, we currently have a wide range of soil moisture conditions. Soils in central Oklahoma are generally dry on top, but there is ample soil moisture below. Soils in western Oklahoma and the Panhandle are dry all the way down. A few drills have started rolling, but most producers are waiting on a “State Fair” rain to get started (for all you non-Okies, it usually rains sometime during the State Fair in early September). While moisture availability is the primary driver of wheat planting, it is not the only consideration for producers. Hot soil conditions can affect wheat germination too, and there are a few questions producers should ask themselves prior to planting into soil temperatures >90F.

coleoptile length

If the wheat coleoptile does not break the soil surface, the germinating wheat plant will not survive.

Will you have to plant deep to reach moisture? That first structure protruding from a germinating wheat seed is actually not a leaf. It is the coleoptile. The wheat coleoptile is a rigid structure whose sole purpose is to “punch through” the soil surface so that the first true leaf emerges above the soil surface. If this does not happen, the first true leaf will try to extend below the soil surface, turn yellow, and take on an accordion-like appearance (picture above). Modern semi-dwarf wheat varieties have shorter coleoptiles than older, tall wheat varieties and coleoptile length is shortened even further by hot soil conditions. So it is important to plant a variety with a longer coleoptile length (e.g. Garrison or Doans) if planting deeply into hot soils. A rating of coleoptile lengths for wheat varieties can be found in OSU Fact Sheet 2141 OSU Wheat Variety Comparison Chart available at www.wheat.okstate.edu or at the direct link to the publication here.

Is the variety high temperature germination sensitive? High temperature germination sensitivity is a fancy way of saying that some wheat varieties simply don’t germinate well in hot soil conditions (e.g. 2174, Overley). The extent of the sensitivity varies by year, so Overley might germinate fine in 95F soils one year and produce a 10% stand in the same soil conditions the next. When sowing early, it is best to plant varieties that do not have high temperature germination sensitivity (e.g. Duster, Gallagher, or Armour). Soil conditions generally cool due to lower ambient temperatures or cooling rains by about September 20; however our summer temperatures seem to be arriving late this year, so it is best to know the level of germination sensitivity in the variety you are planting. A rating of high temperature germination sensitivity for wheat varieties can be found in the variety comparison chart linked above. A more detailed explanation of the phenomenon can be found in OSU Fact Sheet PSS 2256 Factors affecting wheat germination and stand establishment in hot soils (available by clicking here).

Freeze injury update – worse than we thought

On April 4th I toured southwest Oklahoma and surveyed freeze injury to wheat. In my experience, most freeze events are overhyped; however, this one was the real deal Holyfield.  I traveled a route from Faxon to Chattanooga to Altus to Blair and ended up at Apache. Damage was similar at all sites, with injury ranging from 50 to 80%.

The best looking wheat was the hardest hit. Particularly troubling are some fields in the Altus area that easily had 80 bushel potential prior to the freeze. In most of these fields we are too far past the tillering stage to have yield compensation from secondary tillers. Late-emerging fields that were jointing or smaller escaped the freeze with little injury. Fields that had been heavily grazed and/or under-fertilized also escaped with relatively minor injury.  Conditions improved slightly when I checked wheat in the Chickasha area and injury was more in the 10 – 30% range.

I am frequently asked if the injured wheat head will go ahead and “push through” as the season progresses, and the answer is no. So, if you see heads emerging out of the boot in a few weeks, they are likely not damaged and a head count at this stage will be a reasonable estimate of fertile heads. Since there will not be additional stem elongation in freeze injured wheat, it will not accumulate as much tonnage as in a ‘normal’ year.

I have posted a few pictures below showing freeze injury symptoms. Freeze injury can vary greatly among fields and even within a field. So, it is important to check several sites within a field and split several stems when determining the percent injury. Check early maturing varieties such as Jackpot, Billings, and Everest first, as they are most likely to have injury.

Image

Endurance wheat collected from plots at Chattanooga, OK. The two top heads are freeze damaged and will not recover. Note the shriveled, white appearance of the wheat head. The bottom head was not injured and is healthy green.

A healthy head of Endurance  from Apache, OK.

A healthy head of Endurance from Apache, OK.

Even though this wheat was just past jointing, it was injured by the freeze and the head was lost.

Even though this wheat was just past jointing, it was injured by the freeze and the head was lost.

Freeze injured Billings from the Altus research station

Freeze injured Billings from the Altus research station

A sign of the drought. Wheat seed still easy to find on a sample from near Altus, OK April 4.

A sign of the drought. Wheat seed still easy to find on a sample from near Altus, OK April 4.

Too little, too late?

It finally rained! Rainfall totals in western Oklahoma (0.1 to 0.3 inches) will not put a dent in the drought, but were probably enough to induce germination of seed resting in dry soil. Oklahoma weather is extremely variable, and who knows when temperatures will warm enough to spur along the germination process. If we retain the recent moisture and have something close to a “normal” year, it is likely that we will see wheat popping through the soil in mid February. I compared February sown winter wheat to spring wheat in a trial at Newkirk, OK a few years ago. The winter wheat made about 15 bu/ac and the spring wheat made about 20 bu/ac. This was in a favorable year that was not plagued by drought. Given current weather trends, a best case scenario for February emerging winter wheat is 50% of normal yield. A worst case scenario is 0 – 10% of normal yield. If I were wagering, I would place my money on 20 – 30% of normal yield potential.

The rainfall might be enough to help emerged wheat west of I-35 survive, but that is about it. Soil moisture is still insufficient to produce a recovery and I would still proceed cautiously regarding inputs on these acres. The rain might have indeed been too little, too late for these acres. IF soil moisture gets recharged by mid February and IF we have a mild spring these acres could have some secondary tillering and make a moderate recovery; however, the odds are against this scenario.rainrfc.48hr

Don’t overgraze no-till

The drought is worsening and forage is getting harder and harder to come by. Crop residue that was once considered of little nutritional value for livestock has become a staple for Oklahoma cattle producers with depleted pasture and hay reserves. John Holman with KSU in Garden City indicated that grazing of sorghum stalks has become commonplace in western KS as well. Some crop residue can be removed without significant damage to long-term gains in soil structure associated with no-till, but overgrazing can lead to some real problems when the wind comes sweeping down the plain.

Wind erosion is commonly thought of as a conventional-till problem, but in an email exchange, Jason Warren recently indicated that there are a few scenarios where wind erosion could actually be worse in no-till than conventional till. No-till results in a relatively smooth, flat soil surface that, in the absence of residue, has few barriers to slow the wind. So, if we have an easily detached soil type (i.e. a sandy soil), a flat surface, and no residue to hold the ground, then we have a recipe for wind erosion. The same would be true for no-till wheat pasture that has been overgrazed. In a wind-erosion-fighting battle royale, I still prefer no-till to conventional till. However, no-till is not immune to wind erosion and it is important to keep some cover on the soil.

Aside from soil protection, it is important to remember that crop residues have value as reservoirs of nutrients.  An estimate of nutrient removal of grain, fiber, and forage crops can be found on one of Brian Arnall’s Pete Sheets at http://npk.okstate.edu/petesheets If the cattle are grazing the residue in-field, most of the nutrients will be returned to the soil. If the residue is being baled, the nutrients are leaving with the hay bales. You can estimate the value of these removed nutrients using the linked Pete Sheet and current fertilizer prices.

No-till practices to not make soil immune from wind erosion. Adequate cover must be maintained.

No-till practices to not make soil immune from wind erosion. Adequate cover must be maintained.

How dry is it?

It was too nice of a day to stay in the office yesterday, so I checked on our wheat variety plots. I started at McLoud, moved west to Kingfisher, and ended up at Marshall. As indicated by the pictures and captions below, neither the wheat nor my mood improved as I traveled west. I am sure if I had traveled farther west, this would have gotten worse. The bottom line is that we are in desperate need of moisture in Oklahoma. Early-sown wheat is backpedaling quickly and cannot hold on too much longer. Much of the later sown wheat has yet to emerge. We are certainly not on our way to a record year, but everything could still turn out okay……..if it rains.