Benefits of Wheat in Your Crop Rotation
There are several agronomic advantages when considering adding wheat into your crop rotation. The period when winter wheat needs the most water, the flowering and early grain-fill stage, coincides with the time of year when most areas normally receive the most rain, May and June. As a result, winter wheat usually produces a crop when irrigation is limited. Most of the groundwater-irrigated land will be subject to allocations of 14 to 16 inches of water for at least the next several years.
Winter wheat also can adapt to varying amounts of precipitation.
Wheat has a lot of ways to make grain and will provide at least half a crop even in the worst years. It also works well in rotation with other crops because its peak water need falls earlier than most summer crops now grown in irrigated rotations. During the growing season, winter wheat is very competitive with warm-season weeds. By the time these weeds come on, winter wheat already has developed enough of a canopy to block the sunlight from reaching the weeds.
Introducing wheat into more traditional irrigated crop rotations is advantageous with farmers’ existing schedules and workloads. Winter wheat can spread the workload for producers of irrigated row crops. It is planted in September, following dry bean harvest.
Winter wheat also will fit into double-crop and relay-crop rotation systems. Under irrigated conditions, a forage crop can be planted following wheat harvest in July, enabling a farmer to produce two crops in one year.
Converting the traditional three-year crop rotation (dry beans/sugar beets/corn) into a four-year rotation by adding winter wheat also has advantages. Sugar beets are susceptible to soil-borne disease; it’s good to allow an additional year between one sugar beet crop and the next. 4
Residue management is another advantage. Winter wheat produces a good amount of useful and resilient crop residue. Many farmers have begun harvesting with stripper headers on combines, which removes only the heads and leaves behind the remainder of the plant. This stubble has a higher silhouette factor than other crops, better protecting the soil from wind erosion. During the winter, it is effective in trapping snow, thus increasing soil moisture.
At the University of Illinois, a team of researchers found that having wheat in the crop rotation helps increase the yield of corn and soybean crops that follow.
A recent three-year summary of the results showed that corn grown in a three-crop rotation (soybean/wheat/corn) yielded 4 percent more than corn in a corn/soybean rotation. Corn in a wheat/soybean/corn rotation produced 6 percent higher yields. Meanwhile, soybeans in both three-crop rotations yielded 4 percent more than soybeans in the corn/soybean rotation.
For producers considering adding wheat to their rotation, late July or early August is the time to think about which variety is best. Nebraska Crop Improvement Association (http://necrop.org/publications) offers a seed guide that can assist you in picking a variety that is best for you. You may contact the Nebraska Wheat Growers Association for more information on membership and getting started in wheat production at [email protected].