Answers To FAQs About Winter Kill, Using Bin-Run Seed
By Dr. Michael D. Peel, NDSU Small Grains Extension Agronomist, mpeel@ ndsuext.nodak.edu
During the winter months, I’ll often get FAQs (frequently
asked questions) about small grains related production matters. One FAQ I’ll often get when the mercury dips to about -25 degrees F: “I planted winter wheat last fall, will these cold temperatures kill it?”
I usually respond with follow-up questions for baseline information to help answer the producer’s initial question. Was the crop planted into stubble? What is the stubble height? Did you
plant a winter hardy variety? And was phosphate applied at planting or was there plenty in the soil?
Snow cover is the most critical factor for winter survival of winter wheat. A cover of four to five inches of snow will almost always ensure that a winter
wheat crop survives the winter, providing that a winter hardy variety was planted. Planting winter wheat into standing stubble of any kind will catch
snow and help ensure that the crop will survive. The higher the stubble, the more snow it will catch and the greater chance of survival.
The winter hardiness of the variety being grown obviously will correlate with how much winter kill occurs. Varieties developed in the Southern Plains
states will rarely survive winters in North Dakota. Varieties developed for Nebraska can survive many of our winters but frequently suffer stand loss,
and sometimes, complete crop loss. However, if they are planted in standing stubble, they are less likely to be lost.
Phosphate stimulates fall growth of winter wheat, particularly root development, and aids in winter survival. The added growth, particularly
root development, enables the crop to withstand the stresses associated with winter.
If you have met all three of these critical factors, your winter wheat should be fine.
Using bin-run seed
Another question that I frequently get is, “I have this bin of variety X; is it
advisable to use it for seed?” My questions are: Why do you want to use it? Is it scabby, and the elevator won’t accept it? Does it have sprout damage,
and the elevator won’t accept it? Is it in good shape and you want to save some money?
This is a more difficult question in many respects than the first. Can you have good results with bin-run seed? Yes, you can certainly have good
results with bin-run seed. Can you have poor results with bin-run seed? Again, certainly, you can have poor results with bin-run seed. To avoid poor
results, have the seed tested, to determine two things: the test weight and percent germination. You can do this yourself, or have someone else do it
for you.If the test weight is low, (56 lbs/bu for wheat and 42 lbs/bu for barley) it is an indicator that the seed will produce seedlings with poor
seedling vigor, and the crop will be more susceptible to adverse conditions during early crop development. If the germination is low, you will suffer
stand reduction. Conversely, if the test weight is high (above 58 lbs/bu for wheat and 45 lbs/bu for barley) and the germination is good (above 90%), it
is probably a good source of seed. If you choose to use it, having it cleaned or conditioned is always advisable.
If wheat seed is diseased, scabby or has black point (wheat), it is a source of Fusarium root rot or common root rot. If you insist on using it for
planting, make sure it meets test weight and germination requirements, and treat it before use.
Be sure to keep the Plant Variety Protection law in mind. Growers who purchase a protected variety under the authority of the owner have the right
to replant the progeny of that seed on their own farms for an unlimited period of time. Crops grown from seed of a protected variety can also be sold for non-reproductive purposes, such as food and feed.
However, federal law nationwide prohibits the sale of protected varieties for reproductive purposes by unauthorized sellers, a practice commonly
referred to as “brownbagging.” A buyer of a protected variety for use in non-reproductive purposes may not convert the grain to productive
purposes. It is also unlawful to knowingly condition seed for unauthorized propagation.
Bear in mind that whenever you use bin-run seed, you are also using an old variety. There are almost always new varieties available that outperform the
old ones. Don’t exclude yourself from the added yield and quality advantage a new variety might offer.