Effective management tools + good varieties + other factors = increased opportunity for profitability in crop production.

This equation is a constant goal of wheat producers in California and Arizona who utilize an alphabet of tools from A to Z to achieve a high-quality crop and profitability while serving as good stewards of the land.

Four University of California specialists armed with the latest wheat production recommendations spoke during a wheat session at the California Alfalfa and Grains Symposium in Sacramento, Calif., in December.

Lee Jackson, Kent Brittan, Steve Wright, and Steve Orloff shared knowledge from their combined 100 years of service to California’s agricultural industry.

Jackson, UC Cooperative Extension specialist emeritus, Davis, called variety selection possibly the most important decision a grower can make to achieve a high quality, high yield wheat crop. His advice included growing multiple wheat varieties; not just one.

“Growers should not rely on a single variety,” Jackson said. “It’s best to spread out production risks by growing several varieties with resistance to prevalent diseases and different traits which fit the particular growing region.”

A willingness to change varieties each year is important since races of pathogens can overcome previously-resistant varieties.

On variety selection, Jackson said, “Decisions should be based on cultural practices in growers’ cropping systems, the needs of available markets, and first and foremost the quality and yield traits which allow the grower to make a profit.”

Variety selections should be based on yields over a period of years under different production conditions.

Variety traits should be carefully weighed by growers. Yield is the top factor, but also consider variety plant growth and development characteristics including plant stature, and the intended use of the variety (green chop, grain, etc.).

California is actually a wheat-deficit state where more demand exists than supply, according to the California Wheat Commission. About 60 percent of California-grown wheat is consumed by people. The balance is fed to livestock as silage, green chop, forage, and hay.

Another factor to consider is the disease and pest reaction of different varieties. Reactions can change from year to year.

“Always be on guard against new and emerging diseases,” Jackson said. “Be flexible and open to the use of new varieties,” Jackson said.

Recently retired UCCE farm advisor Emeritus Kent Brittan, Yolo and Solano counties, shared his views on wheat stand establishment. Brittan says site selection is usually not high on the grower’s priority list, but should be.

“Site selection can make or break a small grains planting,” Brittan said. “Rainfall drainage should be the number one consideration.”

Many small grain plants cannot live beyond 2-4 days submersion in water. In heavier soils, Brittan recommends planting wheat on beds.

Seedbed preparation strategies vary across different growing regions based on crop rotation, soil type, soil and moisture conservation, residue management, and the grower’s approach to tillage.

“The main objective is to produce a firm, debris- and weed-free seedbed for rapid germination and emergence,” Brittan explained. “Good seed-soil contact is important for quick imbibitions and germination.”

He says base tillage decisions – conventional or no-till – on existing plant residue, the planting method, soil type, and other factors. Avoid working wet ground.

“The decision to flat plant or plant on beds depends on the soil. Drill the seed and avoid broadcast planting unless time and weather are a threat.”

Most California wheat is drill planted versus aerial application.

“It’s almost always better to drill,” Brittan said. “Drill planting creates a more uniform seed depth, lower seeding rates, better soil contact, fertilizer placement, and improved emergence.”

Brittan says calibrate planting equipment when changing seed varieties since the seed size often varieties between varieties.