The wheat crop in southern Illinois has been through a lot since last fall but has seemed to persevere, and the yield outlook is optimistically high. As we go back to last fall and think about planting conditions and fall growth/development, it was really a mixed bag with some of the earliest plantings doing well. Later plantings, however, suffered through a cold, wet November. Thankfully, the mild temperatures over the winter allowed the crop to recover, and we are looking at what appears to be a pretty good crop.
The recent cold temperatures have put some yield at risk, but the majority of acres appear to have missed the worst of the potential damage. We will likely see some isolated cases of freeze injury depending on the variety and growth stages of given fields.
One of the biggest risks to the wheat crop in any year is Fusarium Head Blight (FHB), and 2020 will likely be no different. Compared to 15 years ago, we now have genetic tolerance to FHB in many varieties as well as several fungicides on the market that can effectively suppress the fungus as well. These two factors along with a few management guidelines can significantly reduce the damage from Fusarium Head Blight.
Figure 1 and 2. Wheat head on the left showing the “whitening” of the head caused by Fusarium Head Blight. The grain on the right showing the damage to the grain.
Figure 3. This picture demonstrates the baking
effect of the Falling Numbers score.

As we approach harvest, it is important to note some of the challenges that still lie ahead. Harvest timing is crucial in maintaining grain quality, especially as it relates to test weight. Harvesting the wheat at moistures above field dry, and artificially drying before a rain “rewets” the grain, will greatly improve the chances of selling high quality grain. Harvest timing can also influence the Falling Numbers score that millers use to determine the milling quality of the wheat. This test measures the intactness of the starch chains in the grain and ultimately how the wheat will “bake out”. If the grain is left in the field too long, a germination enzyme in the seed begins to break down the starch chains.

Harvest is also a great time to evaluate many of the management decisions made throughout the growing season. As it relates to nitrogen rate, a perfectly standing field at harvest is a sign that the rate was maybe just a little too light. Large areas of the field that are lodged would obviously be a sign the rate was too heavy. Having 5-10% of the field lodged is a good indication that the nitrogen-to-yield relationship was maximized.

Figures 4 and 5. Wheat heads on the left are from an area of the field that was standing perfectly. The heads on the right are from areas of the field that were lodged. This demonstrates the strong relationship between nitrogen rate and yield.

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About the Author: Scott Eversgerd

Eversgerd is a Certified Crop Advisor and has been a Field Agronomist for Pioneer in Southern Illinois for 18 years. He works with local growers to maximize their farming operations in seed selection and all other aspects of agronomy. Eversgerd spent five years in Kentucky as a Crop Consultant on High Management Wheat and Precision Technology and spent five years with Novartis/Syngenta Crop Protection in Indiana and North Carolina. He holds a bachelor’s in plant and soil science from Southern Illinois University and resides in Nashville, Ill. with his wife, Stacie, and two children, daughter Katlyn (18) and son Logan (18). Eversgerd operates his family farm in Clinton county with his two brothers raising corn, soybeans and wheat.