Lubbock County Extension Agent Mark Brown headed out to an irrigated wheat field in the northwest precinct of Lubbock County to evaluate the maturity stage of the crop. He said that by now, cattle should be pulled off of grazing the wheat if the producer wants to take the field to grain.
"This is a very pretty field, very uniform. The producer just recently applied his last herbicide and this field is just getting to the jointing stage," Brown said. "We see a lot of variability from one field to the next here in Lubbock County. Some fields are already jointing, and this field is very close to the jointing stage. This is the point in time whenever hopefully we've got all of our nitrogen top dress on the field already."
As the wheat approaches the jointing stage, the number of grain seeds the plant will produce is already being determined.
"As we put one to two more nodes on there, then we're going to get growth, and then we're going to see that flag leaf become visible. As the flag leaf becomes visible, then it will go into the boot stage, and that's the point whenever we really need to be available with the irrigation," Brown said. "Hopefully we'll get a rain to help us out between now and that time."
Brown demonstrated a simple field test to measure the maturity of your wheat. Past the jointing stage, the crop is now exposed to the elements, so a late hard freeze could result in freeze damage.
"Here we're looking at some individual wheat tillers from a different field that is already moved into the jointing stage and that's whenever we see the first node move up above ground level. So there's the node right there. If you feel of it between your thumb and forefinger, there's a little bump there that feels kind of like a b.b. down inside of the stalk," Brown said. "Down below that is going to be a hollow stalk, and up above that node is going to be the growing point where the differentiation is taking place in the head. And here I've cut one of these open and so if you take a pocket knife or a razor blade and you cut above that node that you find, then you can literally dissect that little head that's growing up above that growing point. At this point amazingly, we can already see a little immature wheat head. Now of course, it has not been fertilized. It will not be fertilized until it pushes through the boot through that last flag leaf, which is still a couple or three weeks away."
Besides checking plant maturity, producers need to be on the look out for yellowing or pale patches in the field, which could be an indication of a pest problem.
"There are a couple of insect pests in particular in wheat that we can be watching for this time of year," Brown said. "One of those is the green bug which feeds down low on the plant on the underneath sides of leaves and it injects a toxin and causes a red streaking on the leaves. So we need to be watching for green bug infestations. We also need to be watching for an introduced pest that's been with us for more than 20 years now that came up from Mexico and it's called the Russian wheat aphid. This Russian aphid gets down in the whirl of the plant, also injecting a toxin and it cause a white longitudinal streaking, and then if you unfurl that whirl you can find the wheat aphid feeding down inside there."
Brown said that this season he has seen many producers managing only half pivots of wheat instead of a full field in an effort to stagger water usage for summer crops.
"In this particular field we can see that half of the pivot is planted in wheat, and the other half is old cotton ground and will most likely go back to cotton this coming year. Here in Lubbock County with the continued drought situation, producers are really having to watch what they're doing with their water and the water availability that they have," Brown said.
So at this point any extra moisture will not only help with upcoming planting, but will also help the wheat fields as they move in to the boot stage.