Assessing Winter Wheat Stands

In order to obtain an accurate stand count, be sure to allow plants enough time to green up and resume growth. Using a yard stick, count the number of plants along a 3 ft distance and repeat this procedure in several locations throughout the field. Average those results to determine the average number of plants/3 ft of row. Multiply that number by 4 and divide by the row width (inches) to determine the number of plants/ft2.

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For example, in a 7-inch row spacing, if the average number of plants is 44 per 3 ft row length, the calculation would be:

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(44 x 4) / 7 inches = 25.1 plants/ft2

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Optimum plant stands for maximizing yield potential are in the range of 23 to 30 plus plants/ft2. Plant stands of roughly 15 to 22 plants/ft2 can return yields close to full yield potential when conditions are ideal. If the number of plants/ft2 is determined to be 15 or above, tillering can help compensate for poor stands. For those fields with tillers, 15 tillers/ft2 are needed for a viable crop.

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Assessing plant health should be done by digging several plants and observing the roots for a healthy appearance. Healthy roots should be white and without any dark or soft spots, while healthy dissected crowns should be white to light green. If the majority of plants appear to be unhealthy, crop destruction may be warranted.

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If plant stand counts are below 5 to 10 plants/ft2, destroying the wheat stand and planting another crop may be justifiable. Crop options for replanting may be corn, soybean, or sorghum, but always consult with your seed and herbicide consultant to understand any herbicide carryover concerns that may damage the replanted crop.

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Seed cost, fuel, crop protection inputs (herbicides, insecticides, fungicides), cost to destroy, and projected wheat yield (if kept) compared to a new crop potential yield and return should be considered if replanting to a new crop. Prior to destroying a wheat crop, the crop insurance company should be contacted, if applicable, to review your insurance policy and determine available options.

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