WATERLOO, NY — Last season’s weather in New York was just what wheat farmers needed: hot and dry, according to Mike Stanyard, PhD and senior Extension associate with Cornell’s Northwestern New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team. He presented “Small Grains Management Updates: Wheat & Malting Barley” at the recent Soybean Small Grains Congress 2017, hosted by Cornell Cooperative Extension Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team.
Despite the ideal wheat growing weather, New York wheat farmers couldn’t catch a break. Low prices devalued their wheat.
“I hate to hear people who get 100 bushels an acre and break even,” Stanyard said, referencing the poor price’s ability to negate the good yield.
Though farmers possess little influence on prices, they can do quite a bit to increase their harvest. Stanyard advised the farmers present to “get off to a great start with certified seed.”
Cornell’s trials can help with variety selection. Using good agronomic practices (GAPS) also makes a difference in yield.
“Wheat likes pH of 6.0 and higher,” Stanyard said. “It likes moderately to well-drained soils drill on 7-inch to 7.5-inch spacing. Plant 1 to 1.5-inches deep.”
Planting early reduces the seed rate. Stanyard recommended planting by Sept. 15 at the rate of 1.35 million live seeds per acre. Planting later will require more seeds. To obtain the seed rate per acre, divide the recommended rate by the percentage of live seed. For example, 1,350,000 seeds divided by .90 live seeds equals 1.5 million seeds, since about 90 percent of seeds are live.
Most labels indicate how many seeds are in a pound. Or, farmers can call the seed distributor for this information.
Stanyard also stressed the importance of starter fertilizer.
“Base needs on soil tests,” he said. “Phosphorus is very, very important. If not, that leaves eight to 10 bushel on the table.”
He advised against mounting tanks on the drill because of the excess weight. Mount them on the tractor or tow them instead.
To determine how much nitrogen to apply, it’s vital to count the tillers on the wheat plants.
“Lay a yard stick and count the number of plants,” Stanyard said. “Dig up 10 and look at the tillers. With a late planting, you may have one. With an early planting, you may have 12. Use less nitrogen if you have more tillers. You want to promote plant growth, not tillers.”
Stanyard prefers stream bars for application, since they’re not height sensitive and less nitrogen is tied up in residue. Stream bar application also results in very little leaf burning.
“Do not mix herbicide with nitrogen,” Stanyard warned. “That can burn if it’s hot.”
He said, as plants get higher, powdery mildew can affect yield. Cutworms also threaten wheat. Though they don’t over winter in New York, it can be hard to predict whether you’ll need to spray for them.
“Every year, look for them,” Stanyard said. “They’re nocturnal, so look in the evening. If you see blackbirds diving into the wheat, get spraying.”
Despite its name, the wheat beetle actually prefers oats, according to Stanyard.
“They do over winter and go for wheat because it greens first,” he said.
Monitoring fields carefully can help catch them before they become widespread.
Worried about fungal infections in wheat? Stanyard said although it happens quickly, you can still halt its spread if you remain vigilant.
“Shake it and the pollen comes off,” he said.
But fungicide is only 50 percent effective at fungal suppression in wheat fields, so using resistant varieties can help improve your chances of avoiding fungal infection.
Stanyard also discussed malting barley updates. Since the state’s boom in small breweries began, the demand has steadily increased for malting barley.
Though some producers have eagerly begun planting malting barley, Stanyard said, “It’s more difficult than wheat.”
One reason is that growers don’t find out what malt house owners want before they plant. They must select the correct variety, for example. The malting barley must also fall within the malt house’s parameters for deoxynivalenol, crude protein, germination and rapid viscous analysis. Discussing what the malt house wants before planting can save a loss later.
Stanyard added that malting barley also is prone to fusarium head blight and other small grain diseases if it’s a wet, humid year.
Although 2016 proved a dry year, during a rainy year, it’s especially important to use GAPs, such as selecting varieties resistant to disease, avoiding grasses during rotation, and applying fungicide at heading.
For more information on malting barley, visit https://fieldcrops.cals.cornell.edu.