Selection of wheat varieties is one of the most critical management decisions Kentucky wheat producers will make this fall. Choosing varieties with yield and test weight potential is essential, but growers need to pay attention to other factors like disease resistance, adaptation to Kentucky’s extreme year to year climatic variation, and the need to vary harvest maturity so that every variety is not ready to combine at once.
Wheat growers can minimize their risks by planting several varieties that have demonstrated track records of good yield and test weight, which complement one another for disease resistance and maturity. Straw or forage yield potential might be other considerations.
To minimize the potential for spring freeze damage, the first variety planted in the fall should be a later heading variety, and varieties with an early heading date should be the last to be planted. In 2012 when significant spring freeze damage occurred, it was the early flowering varieties that had been planted too early in the fall which showed the greatest damage.
Selection of varieties with differences in heading dates (maturity) is also important to ensure that the varieties planted are actually different and not the same genetic line licensed under different brand names. Plant height, head type and straw or forage yield potential, can also help navigate potential branding issues among a group of high grain yielding varieties.
Maturity is also important when considering disease, in particular Head Scab (Fusarium Head Blight). In years when scab is a problem, early flowering varieties may be hit hard, while later flowering types may face less pressure, and vice versa depending on the season.
Although scab was not a serious problem for most growers in Kentucky in 2015, our crop is always at risk because of the prevalent rotation in which wheat is planted after corn. Though no varieties are truly scab resistant, there are now several varieties which have shown moderate resistance.
Under heavy scab pressure, utilization of varieties with resistance and an application of the right fungicide at the proper time can dramatically minimize damage. Although foliar fungicides are great tools that can be used to help reduce scab, susceptible varieties will still be affected severely in years that are favorable for scab, despite the application of a foliar fungicide.
Though multiple characteristics need to be considered, variety selection is widely recognized as the simplest and most cost effective way to maximize production profitability. The University of Kentucky wheat variety performance data is available online.
Although head scab ratings were not taken due to very low pressure in 2015, good data was collected for leaf blotch. Head scab ratings are available in the 2013 & 2014 reports. Growers can also check the 2015 variety report from the University of Illinois, where head scab pressure was very high.