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Judging fate of winter wheat, alfalfa stands

April 11, 2013 | 0 comments

Patience urged on judging fate of winter wheat, alfalfa stands

Ray Mueller



It’s too early to judge how well winter wheat and alfalfa stands survived the winter after considerable ponding and ice covering, Outagamie County Extension Service crops, soils, and horticulture agent Kevin Jarek said.

He spoke to members of the county’s forage council at the group’s spring field day at Van Wychen Farms on April 4.

With the help of area independent crop consultants, a few winter wheat and alfalfa plants were on display after being dug from the still frozen soil, which had been covered with ice for at least part of the winter. All of them showed good signs of life.

One alfalfa plant dug nine days earlier by Bill and Todd Schaumberg of Polenske Agronomic Consulting from a spot not recently covered by ice was then put in a warm indoor space. This resulted in up to three to four inches of new growth by the day of the meeting.

Another alfalfa plant that they took from a nearby spot where there was an air pocket between the ice and soil was also exhibiting green-up.

Winter wheat plants whose leaves were brown after the winter were showing new growth after a few days on a heater. Jarek said this was a good sign, noting that brown leaves are not necessarily an indicator that the plant has died.

Those plants were collected and brought to the field day by Kyle Much of Knutzen Crop Consulting.

Winter wheat growers can expect an acceptable yield if there are 12-15 live plants per square foot, Jarek stated. He said the ideal is to have 32 plants per square foot.

In a related advisory issued during the first week of April, Extension Service state small grains agronomist Shawn Conley reiterated the point that brown leaves on winter wheat are not the equivalent of plant mortality. What’s important, he pointed out, is having healthy white roots and looking for new growth from the plant’s crown.

For plant density, Conley says that less that 12-15 plants per square foot is reason to abandon the field for winter wheat. If tillering doesn’t add up to 70 stems per square foot, induce tillering with an application of nitrogen as soon as field travel allows, he advises.

Regarding the alfalfa, Jarek said 55 stems (not plants) per square foot is considered to be a good stand. For evaluating the density of both winter wheat and alfalfa as the crops come out of dormancy, his advice is to "be patient."

Given that the number of alfalfa acres in Wisconsin continues to decrease, Jarek suggested that the value of dry hay and haylage is likely to increase.

He cited recent prices of $200-$300 per ton for varying qualities of dry alfalfa hay and up to $100 per wet ton for haylage and reported that calls to his office about the pricing of forages are increasing in volume.

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