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No Till Notes - “Winter Wheat Water Use Efficiency”

By Mark Watson, Panhandle No-Till Educator
There are a lot of variables in crop production but in our semi-arid environment the number one limiting factor is almost always moisture. We are also limited in yield potential with the type of soils that we work with and the water holding capacity of these soils.
I wanted to share with you the water use efficiencies of our winter wheat and field pea crops that we harvested last month on our farm. I think it is very important when you are considering your crop rotation and which crops to produce on your farm that you look at the type of soils you have to work with, their water holding capacity, and your precipitation patterns.
We have known for a long time that winter wheat is a crop which can be grown successfully in this region. With a continuous no till cropping system we are really challenging the water use efficiencies of the winter wheat crop. When we eliminated the long summer fallow period prior to winter wheat planting we limited subsoil moisture that was stored during this excessively long fallow period.
We have designed a fallow period into our crop rotation prior to winter wheat planting following our field peas. Our fallow period runs from July till wheat planting in mid-September, so we don’t have the subsoil moisture at planting time that the long summer fallow system has most years.
Like most producers of winter wheat this year we were pleasantly surprised by our winter wheat yields. This past spring was a challenge with the early breaking of dormancy due to unusually warm spring temperatures, late freezes, and limited moisture during the critical months of May and June. The wheat crop still produced a good yield which shows why it is such an important crop for our area.
The water use efficiency of the crop is really quite amazing when I looked back at our precipitation for the year. During our fallow period last year from July through September we received 3.9 inches of moisture which was 1.37 inches below our normal rainfall of 5.27 during this time period. We did manage to get some subsoil moisture stored for the winter wheat and we had good moisture to plant the crop into.
The time period from October through April is where we really received the precipitation that made our winter wheat crop this year. During this time period we had excellent rain in October and April with some periods of moisture during the other months. We received 6.82 inches of precipitation which was 2.72 inches above the average of 4.1 inches. This precipitation had our winter wheat crop in excellent shape for a bumper crop up to this point.
Unfortunately May and June which are critical months for the developing wheat crop were the start of what has become a prolonged dry period for our region. We received only 2.33 inches of rain during these months which is 3.42 inches below our normal rainfall of 5.75 inches.
For the entire time frame from last July until the end of June this year we received 13.05 inches of precipitation which was 2.15 inches below normal. Our winter wheat crop ranged from 51 bushels per acre to 43 bushels per acre. The higher yields were near our home place where we measure our precipitation received. The lower yields were on fields farther away where we felt we didn’t receive as much rain this spring.
All in all I was really pretty amazed at the ability of winter wheat to convert moisture into grain. Even with below normal precipitation for the year and particularly during the months of May and June the winter wheat crop proved once again what a valuable crop it is for this region of the High Plains.

Last modified onMonday, 13 August 2012 16:30
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