By Harry Brook
Early harvest can be an opportunity to try something a little different this fall. Get the jump on spring work by seeding a fall cereal. Fall cereals have numerous advantages and can really work well in disrupting weed problems as well as saving time in the busy spring period. The common winter cereals grown are winter wheat, fall rye and winter triticale.
Fall cereals should be seeded in the Flagstaff area the last week of August or first week of September. If there is some moisture in the topsoil, it usually will germinate. The goal is to have the plants be in the three-leaf-plus-a-tiller stage at the onset of winter. At this stage the plants have enough energy stored in the root crown to survive most winters and regrow first thing in the spring.
What are the advantages to seeding winter cereals? As yield is directly related to length of growing season, winter cereals can be expected to yield about 15 – 30% more than a spring seeded cereal. It spreads out the spring workload as part of the crop is already in the ground, come spring. Due to the fact it is seeded the previous spring, it matures and is harvested earlier than spring cereals. It can, more efficiently, utilize all the spring moisture available and can be filling the head during the hot days of summer. As it heads earlier, it can also avoid insect pest damage like the wheat midge and wheat stem sawfly. It matures and is harvested earlier, possibly giving you a better grade in the grain from a winter cereal, avoiding weathering and bleaching from poor fall weather.
It has a big advantage in weed control as you can use a cheap phenoxy herbicide (2,4-D or MCPA) to deal with winter annual weeds in the fall. Often, there is no need to use grassy herbicides in the spring as the crop will be ahead of wild oats and most other weeds. This also helps when battling herbicide resistant weeds. The crop does have to be thick enough and competitive enough to keep down germinating weeds. Spring germinating weeds will have little effect on crop yield.
Sounds too good to be true, right? It does have a few issues you need to consider. Winter survivability is not total. Because of this, it is always a good idea to seed a little heavier than you would for a spring seeded crop. In terms of winter survival, fall rye does best, followed by winter triticale, then winter wheat. Breeding efforts over the last 30 years have greatly improved winter wheat’s winter hardiness. You need to assess how much of the crop survived the winter in April. Even a thin crop stand in spring can compensate by tillering extensively and provide a profitable yield. The optimum spring stand is 20 plants per square foot. However, a stand of 10 to 15 plants per square foot is still worth keeping.
There is also the consideration of how much of the fertilizer to use when seeding winter cereals. Phosphorus is essential for establishing a healthy crown and to get growth started in the spring. Nitrogen fertility can be met by side banding in the fall, which may run a risk of loss due to leaching or denitrification, but there are fertilizer products that can reduce that risk. Split nitrogen applications at seeding and again at spring can work but rainfall is needed to get the nitrogen into the root zone.
Winter cereals also provides habitat for ducks and upland game birds. It has many benefits and can fit nicely into a varied crop rotation. However, time in the fall for seeding is needed to make it work. This year it might be a very good fit. Take a look. For more information, click HERE.
Harry Brook is Flagstaff County’s Agricultural Fieldman. He can be reached via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at: 780-384-4138.