Small Grain Planting Considerations

Did wet weather delay your wheat planting? Here are some tips that might assist you with your planting decisions.
Small Grain Planting Considerations - Articles

Updated: October 16, 2018

Small Grain Planting Considerations

No-till wheat in corn residue

Variety Selection

A big decision is what variety to plant. Varieties can vary as much as 30bu/acre in a given test plot. Local reporting as well as Industry reports is vital to selection. Penn State tests numerous varieties; those are available at " Barley and Winter Wheat Performance Trials ".


It is discouraged to plant wheat in a rotation with corn. Diseases, namely Take All, a fusarium species, and head scab - fusarium, can cause tremendous losses. Some growers I discussed this with noted a 40 bu/acre loss from the disease. It is almost entirely avoided through a rotation with soybeans or another broadleaf crop. So, save the risk of head scab by starting out with the correct rotation.

To purchase seed or not?

First, if the variety you have in hand has a legally binding agreement that limits saving the seed, you may not be able to replant it. Otherwise if one decides to replant the seed from last summer one needs to be sure to test the seed and utilize a seed treatment. If the test comes back below 80% then the decision should be to use certified seed.

Another consideration with seed treatments is which product to utilize. With saturated soils this is a critical decision. Work with your dealer or secure a farmer applied treatment of a fungicide active on water borne diseases prior to planting.

Seeding date

The date for proper seeding is rapidly approaching. In fact, in southeastern Pennsylvania the planting date is now. Late seeding does impact the overwintering capability of the crop. For proper seeding dates the agronomy guide details those dates depending on your farms location in the state. When planting late be sure to increase seeding rate 30% to compensate for losses.

In Pennsylvania for wheat specifically, seed winter wheat between September 20 and October 3 in northern climates, between September 25 and October 8 in central climates, and between October 1 and October 15 in the southeast climate.

Seed Depth

Seed 1.0 to 1.25 inches deep. Maintain a uniform seeding depth. Since the rooting depth is dictated by the planting depth it is not advisable to plant shallow at this time. Be sure to protect seeds with a fungicide to allow it to emerge without slowing down for any reason.

Seeding Rate

The desired plant population for winter wheat is 1.3 to 1.5 million plants per acre (28 to 34 plants/sq ft). This requires a seeding rate between 1.5 and 1.7 million seeds per acre or 20–23 seeds per foot in a 7-inch row. Use the lower rates in Area 3 and the higher rates in Areas 1 and 2. The seeding rate should be based on the number of seeds per acre rather than pounds per acre. 10,000 seeds per pound (should be on the bag) would indicate the need to set planter at 150lbs per acre. whereas if the seeds per pound 12,000 then 125lbs per acre would needed to be set on the planter to reach the 1.5 million seeds per acre. Refer to the agronomy guide when estimating the appropriate seeding rate for various drill row spacings. Increase these rates when seeding under poor conditions such as a cloddy seedbed or a delayed planting date. When seeding more than 2 weeks following the fly-free date, later increase the seeding rate by 10 percent for each week delayed past that date.

No till Considerations

When no tilling small grains be sure to spread the residue evenly and increase seeding rates by about 15% to compensate for seed to soil contact issues. One area that I run into frequently is seeding depth. The seed placement should strive to get the seed in the soil at a one-inch depth. To measure this be sure to rule out the residue (that is not considered soil). It is one inch of soil above the seed. Slow down! It appears that with larger equipment the faster the drill travels the more it rides up out of the soil and therefore places seed on the top. This leads to poor root development and if any heaving occurs roots may be exposed to weather and herbicide applications. Finally, do not leave out the herbicide burndown; start the crop off clean to ensure a weed free seed bed.


Agriculture/Agronomy Plant Science

More by Delbert G. Voight, Jr