Options and management strategies for freeze-damaged wheat

Share Tweet Email

Producers whose wheat has suffered severe freeze damage have some difficult decisions to make. The most difficult is whether to keep the crop or to destroy it. There is no sure answer, unless it is obvious that the crop is almost completely damaged and not coming back strongly enough to produce more than a minimal yield. In most cases, there is still plenty of time before the crop has to be destroyed in order to plant grain sorghum, soybeans, or if plans are to plant wheat again this fall. But if the crop is obviously lost, it should be killed as soon as possible, keeping crop insurance considerations in mind. As long as it is still at least partially alive, the freeze-damaged crop will take up soil moisture and nutrients needed for the following crop. Producers who have forward contracted much of their anticipated production will probably want to wait longer if there is any doubt about whether the crop will recover. 

If producers do plan to terminate their wheat crop, there are several possible options for managing the field, depending on circumstances. There are some basic questions to ask before deciding on what to do.

Basic questions to ask

1. Was a long-residual sulfonylurea herbicide used on the wheat crop?

* YES. Options are limited. Producers must check the product labels for rotational restrictions. For more on these restrictions, refer to the accompanying eUpdate article in this issue, “Herbicide carryover considerations when re-cropping damaged wheat”.

* NO. More options are available.

a. Cut the failed wheat for forage or graze it out, then re-crop to any row crop or plant back to wheat in the fall.

b. Terminate wheat with herbicides or tillage, then plant a summer crop allowed by rotation restrictions.

Additional comments: The wheat should be tested for nitrate levels before cutting for forage or grazing, especially if a recent top-dress application was made ahead of the freeze. Tilling the wheat under could cause erosion problems, and may be restricted by farm program compliance requirements.

2. Is the crop insured?

 * YES. Three key points:

-- Talk to your crop insurance agent before doing anything

-- It’s very important that producers get their insurance company’s consent before cutting the crop for forage, grazing it out, or killing it. The insurance company must have a chance to appraise and release the acres before the crop is destroyed. If the company cannot make an accurate appraisal, or the producer disagrees with the appraisal at the time the acreage is to be destroyed, the company and producer can work out representative strip areas to be left intact for future appraisal purposes before cutting the crop for forage, grazing it, or otherwise destroying it.

-- For non-irrigated acreage, especially in western Kansas, this spring’s decisions on failed wheat may have insurance implications for the 2021 wheat crop. If the failed wheat crop had been planted on acreage qualifying as summer fallow in the fall of 2019, it would qualify as summer fallow acreage for 2021 ONLY IF:

a. the failed wheat was terminated by JUNE 1, AND

b. any later growth controlled by mechanical or chemical means, AND

c. you did not harvest (e.g. bale) the failed wheat.

* NO. Producers can take action as soon as the soil has dried out.

Re-cropping considerations

If producers want to re-crop this spring, planting through the old wheat crop may pose a challenge. Probably the biggest issue to deal with is the residual effect of whatever herbicide was applied on the wheat. Certain herbicides are persistent and have significant re-cropping guidelines (refer to the accompanying eUpdate article “Herbicide carryover considerations when re-cropping damaged wheat”).

Planting of glyphosate-resistant corn or soybeans could be done prior to termination of the wheat; however, if planting grain sorghum, producers should ensure that the wheat has been fully terminated before planting as there are very limited herbicide options for controlling grass in established sorghum.

Planters equipped for no-till (appropriate residue managers, furrow closers, and starter fertilizer applicators) should have no difficulty effectively placing seed through wheat residue and establishing good stands. The amount of residue moved out of the row ahead of the furrow opener can vary considerably depending on planter capability and grower preference. There are advantages to leaving as much residue as possible in the furrow area without hair pinning residue in the seed zone.  Sharp opening disk and appropriate downforce settings will improve performance.  In some field scenarios, producers may be better off not using residue managers/row cleaners depending on the condition of the terminated wheat and the previous crop residue,

Seed needs to be firmed in the bottom of the furrow. Various after-market closing wheels may be useful when planting in these conditions to avoid compacted furrow side walls and achieve good seed coverage.  

For corn or sorghum, the practice of placing starter fertilizer near or in the furrow at planting may be important, depending on soil fertility level and planting date. A follow-up band application of the remaining N requirement can be made based on anticipated soil residual N and crop potential. Volunteer wheat control later in the season should be much less of an issue because of the wheat crop will be terminated before grain has been produced.

For producers with high accuracy (RTK) guidance and wider spaced wheat (10 or 12”), they may be able to split the existing wheat rows with their row crop planter.  If that is not possible, the row crop should be planted with a heading slightly angled to the existing wheat rows (5-10 degrees).  This will result in better handling of the residue by the planter, better ride quality for the planter row units, and more consistent depth and placement of the seed.

Insurance considerations

Producers who wish to destroy the wheat crop and go to a second crop have the following options after they talk to their crop insurance agents:

1. Plant, but not insure, a second crop.

a. The insured will collect 100% of the indemnity for the first crop after the loss adjuster confirms the loss.

b. Written notice must be provided that the insured elects not to insure the acreage of a second crop

2. Plant and insure a second crop.

a. The insured will collect 35% of the wheat indemnity

b. The insured will pay 35% of the wheat premium

c. If there is no loss on the second insured crop, the insured can request the remaining 65% of the wheat indemnity

d. If there is a loss on the second crop, the insured may:

i. Waive the indemnity on the second crop and collect the remaining indemnity on wheat (also pay remaining premium)

ii. Collect the loss on the second crop and keep the 35% wheat indemnity. There are a couple of exceptions to this rule.

A key, for crop insurance purposes, is whether the wheat had reached the headed stage at the time it is destroyed and planted to second non-irrigated crop, which has no occurred in the majority of the area affected by freeze this year.  You and your crop insurance agent should check the Actuarial Documents in your county for the second non-irrigated crop.  If the second non-irrigated crop is not insurable, the producer would need to keep any production on that crop separate from his or her other acres of the crop.

In several counties in southeast Kansas insurance is available for FAC soybeans. In those counties, the rules for planting another non-irrigated crop after failed or harvested wheat are different. RMA has posted a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) document on their website that addresses Following Another Crop and Not Following Another Crop (NFAC) Cropping Practices. The FAQ is located at https://www.rma.usda.gov/en/News-Room/Frequently-Asked-Questions

In summary, if you have a failed wheat crop, there may be some options available to you on that acreage.  However, it is important to review your county Actuarial Documents and consult your crop insurance agent, which should aid you in developing a plan for that acreage that best fits your farming operation.

Lastly, some general advice for wheat farmers is to order wheat seed for this fall early.


Romulo Lollato, Wheat and Forages Specialist

Lucas Haag, Northwest Area Agronomist, Colby

Sarah Lancaster, Weed Science Specialist

Tags:  wheat freeze injury Re-cropping crop insurance