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Plant cover now for winter wheat

FARGO -- While U.S. Department of Agriculture agencies work to determine whether their initial estimate of 2 million prevented planting acres in North Dakota is correct, many farmers are scrambling to deal with those cropless parcels.

Blake Vander Vorst, senior agronomist for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, said winter wheat acreage had increased to nearly 750,000 in 2011, but dipped to fewer than 350,000 in 2013, largely because of the dry fall conditions. "We're thinking it could go back up (to 2011 levels) again" in 2013 seedings for the 2014 crop, he said.

Vander Vorst said the region where winter wheat might be most applicable is in an area north of a line from Williston along the "prairie coteau" to Turtle Lake, swinging to the northeast corner of the state.

Ducks Unlimited says wild bird nesting is 24 times more successful on winter wheat than on spring-planted wheat. His organization is encouraging farmers to think about timely planting of cover crops and other snow-catching crops to improve survivability of the winter wheat.

Joel Ransom, a North Dakota State University Extension Service agronomist for cereal crops, said farmers should start now to prepare fields for a follow-crop of winter wheat, assuming the flooded fields weren't planted to spring wheat.

Farmers must protect the land from wind and water erosion to remain eligible for direct and counter-cyclical farm programs.

In drier parts of the state, use chemical fallow to control weeds and conserve moisture.

In wetter areas, and where adequate standing residue isn't available, establish a cover crop with flax, or some appropriate crop followed later by winter wheat.

Winter wheat is a low-risk option that can be fertilized in the spring, or replaced with another crop, adds Hans Kandel, an NDSU Extension broadleaf crop specialist.