Checklist for Buying Wheat Seed

Variety selection can play a huge role in yield and premiums

Wheat seed selection is more than just picking the variety that yields the highest in test plots. While yield still reigns as king of seed selection priorities how do quality and other agronomic attributes come into play?

“Think about what varieties will provide the greatest yield in your environment,” says Drew Lyon, Washington State University endowed chair in small grains Extension and research, weed science. “If you have certain issues, such as winter survival or diseases like stripe rust, look for varieties with tolerance to those issues. Remember grain quality is critical, too.” 

Prioritize Yield, Variety Characteristics and Quality

Consider environment when evaluating yield potential. “Wheat is grown in 48 states in the U.S.,” says David Schemm, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers and a Kansas wheat farmer. “Each region has different pest and weather pressures.”

If you’re looking at variety trials, make sure you’re viewing an apples-to-apples comparison of the conditions you have in your fields. What happens in a state, or even a county, near you might not tell you how it will fare on your farm.

Keep defensive agronomic traits in mind. Nutrient efficiency, disease tolerance and drought tolerance all impact yield and quality at the end of the season—check to see how your varieties stack up against your agronomic challenges.

“In the Pacific Northwest, earlier varieties tend to be less susceptible to late drought, but they tend to yield less in non-drought years,” says Drew Lyon, Washington State University endowed chair in small grains Extension and research, weed science. “Look for winter survival and disease scores.”

Check with the seed provider for information on how a product performs against common diseases. “Ask about universal pressures like aphid resistance, and one in my area is wheat streak mosaic virus,” Schemm says. “Scab is another huge disease you need to watch for, especially in parts of the country where more corn is grown.”

Prioritize your top three to five agronomic concerns to guide your product selection after you’ve narrowed them down by yield potential. 

Excellent quality can bring premiums. Protein content is the only quality factor you have control over and it provides the greatest opportunity to be rewarded. The customer will have requirements you need to match.

“In soft white wheat, we don’t want high protein, in fact some years growers will get premiums for grain with protein levels below 10.5%,” Lyon says. “In hard red winter wheat, grain protein levels above 12% might receive premiums in some years.”

Hard wheat goes into products such as bread, which needs more protein, gluten, to rise higher. Soft wheat goes into cakes, cookies and noodles where higher rising wheat isn’t quite as important.

“Usually there is a correlation between yield and protein,” Lyon adds. “As yield goes down it tends to cause protein to increase.”

When yields are lower, protein becomes more concentrated. But you can maintain protein if you keep the plant well fertilized. It’s a balance—make sure added cost will be covered at the end of the year with potential quality premiums or stellar yield.

“Quality is a critical component in wheat since we sell a food product,” Schemm says. “When we look at it in the end, the guys who are getting ahead are the ones using best management practices and getting certified seed, but it all starts with making sure you select the right varieties without forgetting quality at the end of the season.”


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