When a surge in wheat prices shocked the grain world last year, Ohio growers were among those eager to bring home the bread. And it made the term “wheat-beans” even more important.

Barry Ward, Ohio State University (OSU) agricultural economist, says that with the high prices, wheat can add income to a corn-soybean rotation. Jim Beuerlein, OSU Extension agronomist, adds that a corn-soybean-wheat rotation can help enhance the production of each crop. Both are encouraging growers to consider getting wheat planted in plenty of time following soybean harvest.

Those recommendations can apply across most of the Corn Belt. But in the eastern belt, getting wheat planted in late September after the “Hessian fly date” can produce the best results.

Given last year's grain prices, corn was likely the most profitable crop, based on a typical Ohio corn yield of 150-180 bu./acre and a price spike of over $6.50/bu. in the summer. That produced a potential gross revenue of $1,200+/acre for top land. With variable costs deducted, the return was about $800/acre, excluding fixed costs.

That compared to a soybean yield of 46-56 bu. and a price of about $14/bu.near its peak. Gross revenue was about $800/acre for the upper-level yield. Minus variable costs, return was over $600.

For a 50-80-bu. wheat crop and a $6.80/bu. price, the gross return was about $650. Deduct estimated variable costs of about $265, and the return above variable costs is about $380.

With the prices for all three crops lower now, growers should likely re-examine how all three would pencil out on their farms.

“Double-cropping beans after wheat can add to that overall annual return, however, soybean yields will likely be cut at least in half,” says Ward. “So the return from soybeans will be reduced.”

For example, wheat-beans yielding 20 bu. would have generated a gross of $280 and a return above variable costs of $200/acre, based on last year's highs. Add that to the wheat return, and the profit was still below straight beans, and certainly below corn.

Despite the benefits from adding wheat to a corn-soybean rotation, Ward stresses that he “can't see overall profitability increases by adding wheat to the rotation on many soils in Ohio.”

But, bin-bustin' profits aren't wheat's main purpose in the eastern belt.

“A three-year rotation of corn-soybean-wheat appears to be optimum for sustained yield of all three crops,” says Beuerlein. “Crop rotation is the most effective method to reduce pathogen populations that affect the three crops in the sequence.

“The rotation provides enough time away from the host plant for pathogens to die out before that crop is planted again,” he says.

BEUERLEIN SAYS WHEAT following corn likely won't perform as well because both plants are of the same family of grasses and can face the same diseases.

“Wheat should not follow corn in the rotation because the same fungus that causes Gibberella stalk rot in corn also causes Fusarium head scab in the wheat,” he says. “Planting wheat into corn residues greatly increases the risk of a severe scab outbreak in the wheat crop.”

OSU agronomists also suggest that growers not plant continuous wheat. Wheat shouldn't follow wheat or spelt (a cereal grain used as an alternative feed grain to oats and barley) in the rotation sequence.

Planting wheat after soybeans can help reduce populations of pathogens like soybean cyst nematode and Sclerotinia before host crops are again planted in the field.

SELECTING AN EARLY maturing wheat variety is important to get the most out of a double-crop system, says Beuerlein, noting that this can allow for harvest five to seven days before the late varieties are ready.

“Wheat can be harvested with no loss of quality when grain moisture is 18-20%, and will permit soybean planting to be advanced from three to five days,” he says. “Planting wheat immediately after the fly-safe date often hastens its development, leading to a slightly earlier harvest.”

OSU wheat row-spacing research indicates growers should consider wider rows. The studies show that wheat grown in rows spaced 14 in. apart can produce yields that are 94% of yields from rows spaced 7 in. apart (57.3 vs. 61 bu./acre).

“Because the seeding rate per foot of row for wheat is the same for all row widths, the seed cost for 14-in. rows is half that for 7-in. rows,” says Beuerlein. “The lower yield from wide rows is almost offset by the reduced seed cost. The additional savings from drills with fewer seed meters and planting units can make two-row spacing equally profitable (based on OSU data).”

When coming back with soybeans the following summer, the bean planting date is critical in determining productivity of the system. Beuerlein says the yield potential for soybeans decreases by 1 bu./acre/day for each day the planting date is delayed.

“Every effort must be made to harvest the wheat and seed the soybeans as early as possible,” he says. “If soybean planting cannot be completed by July 10, double-cropping should not be attempted,” he advises.

Ward says some growers are using relay intercropping, in which soybeans can be planted into growing wheat during May. “It requires special equipment, but can give growers a head start in a double-crop program,” he says.

COST CONTROL

As with any crop, it can require holding costs to a minimum — a difficult task in today's production economy. OSU's Ward says the budget for wheat will likely include seed costs in the $31-32/acre range. The fertilizer budget will be high: likely $80/acre for N, $44/acre for P and $38 for K for max yield goals.

One obstacle of wheat production in the eastern belt can be wet weather when the crop is maturing. May and June can be too wet, causing disease and loss of yield. June and July can be too hot for maximum yield potential.

“When we have one of those rare dry springs with low disease levels followed by a cool June, yields can reach 120 bu. or more,” says Beuerlein. “But because those good growing seasons are rare, we should manage for the normal weather.”