March 31, 2015

In This Edition

Spring has sprung:  Time to plant clover cover crop in winter wheat!

With the arrival of spring last week, it’s time for farmers to begin thinking about their 2015 wheat crop.

Michigan State University Extension (MSUE) researcher Paul Gross reminds farmers that we are exactly in the window for seeding red clover into a winter wheat crop.  Most years the optimum window is from mid-March to early April, Gross wrote.  Snow must melt before the red clover seed can be put down, and the typical freeze-thaw cycles are a good thing to encourage germination.

The MSUE Cover Crops Program reports “excellent” results seeding mammoth and intermediate red clover into winter wheat, using rates from 6 to 18 pounds of seed per acre.  “The most consistent stands of red clover have resulted when seeding 12 pounds per acre,” Gross recently reported.

By using all-terrain vehicles with spinners, farmers can rapidly seed clover into their wheat without eroding or compacting the soil.  Gross also recommends setting the spreader at half the intended seeding rate to cover the field the first time.  Then re-cover the field a second time – also at half rate – and drive halfway between your tire tracks from the first application system.

ATVs equipped with GPS can also ensure accurate coverage.  Getting a good stand of clover is the key to effective frost seeding this cover crop, according to MSU.

The benefits of a red clover cover crop include:
  • Contributing 30 to 100 lbs. per acre of soil nitrogen
  • Reducing erosion and surface water pollution
  • Increasing soil organic matter and water holding capacity
  • Improving soil health
  • Reducing weed pressure
  • Serving as forage and pasture for livestock
More detailed information on red clover frost seeding is found in “Using red clover as a cover crop in wheat.”  Farmers may also wish to review the website of the Midwest Cover Crops Council.

Winter wheat outlook for 2015:  Could be a profitable year

MSU Extension senior educator Martin Nagelkirk believes it’s fair to say that 2015 will prove more generous to wheat farmers than 2014.  In large part that’s due to the epic winter of 2013-14 that wiped out 85,000 acres of wheat last year.

“It’s not saying too much to predict that this year will be better, given that we are not starting from a position of such winter kill,” Nagelkirk said.
The first challenge of the 2015 wheat season occurred last fall as soybean harvest was seriously delayed by a seemingly-late spring 2014.  Getting soybeans off the land and wheat planted was difficult for wheat farmers.

By mid-October, only 60 percent of Michigan’s wheat crop was reported as being planted, Nagelkirk said.  Because of cool soil temperatures, most of the later-planted acres did not see plant emergence until December when the weather was actually quite mild.

The next obstacle for winter wheat is surviving cold temperatures and spring flooding.

For the most part, wheat is expected to survive winter 2014-15 reasonably well due to generous snow cover, Nagelkirk said.  The fields most susceptible to loss due to cold will be those planted late and those aerial-seeded into standing soybeans.

Prolonged periods of standing water and ice sheeting during this spring thaw always put the wheat stand at greatest risk of dieback.  Other risks will most certainly emerge this growing season.

Based on what is known at this point, growers may consider a couple of management adjustments, Nagelkirk suggested.
  1. Early application of nitrogen.  Wheat planted late last fall will benefit from an early application of nitrogen.  This can be applied on frosted – not frozen – ground on a frigid morning after the ground has thawed or as soon as soil has dried to accommodate traffic.
For wheat that was planted on a more timely basis last fall, the wheat should have sufficient tillering and growth, and nitrogen application may be delayed until the latter part of April, if preferred.
  1. Adjust expectations, consider additional inputs.  Farmers may need to reconsider the costs of individual inputs to realign projected income and expenses, depending on current yield expectations.  Even where a field has a stand of 25 or more seedlings per foot of row, the field may yield 20 percent less than if it had been seeded in September.
This suggests farmers may wish to lower input costs to reflect a downward adjustment in yield.However, this does not mean growers should be conservative with timely-planted fields.These should be pushed as hard as in past years, assuming crop prices respond to the limited acres of wheat in the Great Lakes region.


2015 Annual Winter Grower Meeting a huge success!

More than 300 wheat farmers attended the 3rd annual Michigan Wheat Program Grower Winter Meeting in Frankenmuth earlier this month.  If you weren’t able to attend, you’ll surely want to attend the Wheat Program’s field day this June in East Lansing, and the 4th annual Winter Meeting next March.

The day-long program had more than a dozen educational sessions, its first-ever trade show and opportunities to learn from other wheat farmers.  Educational sessions were videotaped, and will be incorporated in the Michigan Wheat Program’s re-launch of its website in the coming weeks.

One of the program's highlights was special presentations to US Senator Debbie Stabenow, Chair of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry; and Joe Shultz, the committee’s Chief Economist.

Both were honored with national wheat industry awards for their roles in pushing through the 2014 Farm Bill and their support of a Michigan-specific crop insurance adjustment.  Stabenow received the Wheat Advocate Award and Shultz received the Friend of Wheat Award.  Shultz accepted the awards, which were conferred by the National Association of Wheat Growers following nominations from the Michigan Wheat Program.

Speaker Judy Zehnder Keller spoke on the importance of Michigan-grown food products to consumers.  Attendees were also particularly impressed with keynote presenter Peter Johnson (shown here), longtime provincial cereal crops specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.


Wheat program makes Strategic Grant application

The Michigan Wheat Program submitted its first Strategic Growth Initiative (SGI) grant application to the Michigan Dept of Agriculture & Rural Development, and was chosen to present in the final stage.
The SGI application seeks a $60,000 grant to work with the Michigan State University Product Center Food-Ag-Bio to provide baseline data for the wheat industry.  The report would include details on current wheat production, current and potential milling capacity in the state, preferred wheat varieties in various end-user sectors, and scenarios that could determine future development of Michigan’s wheat industry.
A particular point of interest will be the potential to develop wheat processing capacity in the Greater Lansing area, in partnership with the Lansing Economic Alliance Partnership (LEAP).  LEAP is a business promotion partner for the Lansing area, and has particular interest in using local and state economic incentives to expand wheat processing in mid-Michigan using wheat grown in the area.  Development of such a model could be applied statewide.
Statewide, having additional information about the market demand for wheat production and processing will help farmers to better understand the potential that wheat, an important component in crop rotation, can play in their farm’s profitability.
The wheat grant made first-round cuts in the fall, and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development requested a more complete description of the project that was due last month.  Executive Director Jody Pollok-Newsom worked with MSU and LEAP specialists to develop the final application and presented to the grant evaluators.

Awards will be announced soon.


Commodity Classic and new national wheat yield contest

Michigan wheat was represented at the National Association of Wheat Growers and Commodity Classic meetings, which took place in Phoenix last month.  More than 4,000 wheat growers attended the event.  Michigan Wheat Program chairman David Milligan, treasurer Frank Vyskocil and secretary Chris Schmidt attended the wheat committee and board meetings.

New:  Wheat Yield Contest.  One piece of news from the meetings was a new National Wheat Yield Contest to be funded by BASF Corporation.  The contest will be divided into various categories to encourage competition between peers.  Participants will be separated by wheat class, whether the wheat is grown dryland or irrigated, by state and by region.  Other parameters include class, geography, quality and yield.

Wheat Wisdom will provide additional information on this contest as details are made available.
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