Josh Lofton, LSU AgCenter, Wheat Specialist and Field Crop Agronomist
Steve Harrison, LSU AgCenter, Small Grain Breeder
It’s the time of year where we will start to see combines rolling through wheat fields around the state. In fact, while we have been one to two weeks behind normal growth for much of the season, recent dry weather across the state has led to a rapid dry-down and, as a result, many locations in south Louisiana have already begun harvesting. Initial reports from these regions indicate yields have been very promising, with little noticeable influence from this last winter. The majority of north Louisiana has yet to begin harvest, with the majority of fields five to 15 days from beginning harvest. By the look of the crop, it can be expected that yield will potentially be as promising as those being seen in south Louisiana.
As the wheat crop is beginning to wind down, many producers across the state will begin to look toward the successive crop. For a majority of these wheat acres, this will be double-crop soybeans. One of the most important stages in double-crop production systems is the transition from the winter crop to the summer crop. To optimize the soybean yields, a quick and efficient transition is critical. One aspect that will influence this transition is wheat residue management. While most managers will want to manage the residue in a similar manner between years and locations, it is essential that residue management decisions be made individually. The two most commonly used management options for wheat residue management are no-tillage into standing wheat residue and no-tillage into burned wheat stubble. While burning of wheat residue has received substantial negative publicity in recent years, there are conditions and circumstances where it has the potential to be the best management decision. When deciding which management practice to use for each individual system, managers should look at the current growing conditions and previous typical conditions. The recent dry conditions have aided in wheat dry-down. However, it may have detrimental impacts on the successive soybean crop. While these dry conditions will be detrimental in different residue management conditions, these conditions are amplified when the wheat residue is burned ahead of the soybean planting. Therefore, if soils are dry, caution should be used if wheat residue burning is intended. Additionally, while the chance of precipitation in the latter part of the week is always in flux, if wet conditions return, this will also influence management. No-tillage into standing wet wheat stubble can negatively influence planting practices and could result in delayed or poor soybean stands. However, wet wheat stubble will burn inconsistently and potentially, again, negatively influence stand and emergence.
While we have a potentially very productive wheat crop finishing, producers and managers in double-crop systems must already be thinking toward the successive soybean crop. While these double-crop systems can be very productive and profitable, increased management is essential, and residue management is one of the most critical issues.