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Northern Illinois Agriculture

University of Illinois Extension
wheat two

Scout winter wheat fields

This would be a great time to visit your wheat fields, for a number of reasons. If you have not applied your spring nitrogen you can evaluate field conditions prior to application as well as scout the density of winter annual weeds in the fields. The few northern Illinois winter wheat fields that were planted in late September and the first week of October appear to have suffered less tissue damage on leaves and started to green up before the mid to late October planted fields. Most fields did respond to the warmer weather experienced the first week of April and several fields had nitrogen applied. Some growers are waiting to further evaluate their crop before making their spring fertilizer applications. The next week to ten days should give northern Illinois wheat growers a better picture of how their crop fared the winter.

In an email conversation with Dr. Emerson Nafziger, he questioned if problem fields
will grow back enough leaf area in time to form enough tillers for good yields. If it warms up quickly within the next two weeks, wheat might bolt without having enough tillers for good yields (1 head per square foot is about 1 bushel per acre as a crude estimate), even if it has more than 20 plants alive per square foot today.

The Illinois Agronomy Handbook shares that a stand of 30 to 35 plants per square foot is optimal, and a minimum of 15 to 20 healthy plants are needed to justify keeping a field in the spring. If plants are weakened by the winter weather and tiller numbers are low, then even 20 to 25 plants per square foot might not maximize yield. If in doubt, wait and count tillers. By jointing, wheat needs 40 to 50 head bearing tillers per square foot to ensure high yield potential.

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