What to do with your late-sown winter wheat

Winter wheat often undergoes hardship; perhaps even more so this season, as growers scrambled to plant crops when weather conditions permitted. In addition, poorly-established crops have struggled in the wet weather.

At a recent Teagasc Tillage Seminar, Drummonds’ Brian Reilly presented details of a tool box for dealing with late-sown winter wheat.

Crop assessment

The agronomist stated that growers should walk crops every week, let water off the headlands and aim to establish plant populations at a time of the year when field work is not possible. Growers should get an average plant count from four or five areas across the field.

Many crops, he said, may have had 300 plants/m² in the spring of 2017. However, this may have dropped to only 180-200 plants/m² this spring. Despite this, the number is very manageable and can still produce a high yield.

Having an even amount of plants across the field is important to generate a high yield. Wheat will compensate for low plant numbers by producing a bigger head.


Brian also descried how soil pH is essential in nutrient uptake. If soil pH is not correct, he said, nutrients will not be taken up efficiently.

If you have a soil pH of 6, only 50% of the phosphorus is available to the plant. Phosphorus is one of the dearest forms of fertiliser you can buy.

Brian stated that late-sown crops, which are struggling or have low plant populations, should receive nitrogen on a little and often basis to keep tillers standing.

He also recommended testing leaf samples. When this is carried out, farmers know what nutrients are flowing through the plant.

“There is no point in throwing a multi-mix of micro-nutrients on the plant if it doesn’t need it,”

Plant growth regulator

Plant growth regulator (PGR) should be applied in March to promote tiller development in crops with low plant populations.


Rolling can also encourage tillers, he said, and it works well in a dry spring. However, at present, conditions are not suitable for rolling.

If the ground is not fit for travel, do not travel.


Growers should ensure that the crop is actively growing when applying herbicides; the application of herbicides can sometimes set a plant back by seven-to-10 days.