2009-06-03 / Fields & Yields

In the Furrow

Sprout Damaged Wheat
By Peyton Sapp County Extension Director

I have not heard any real complaints about the recent rains we have had around the county. Hopefully we will have continued showers throughout the growing season. The rains did bring some troubles beyond flooded fields and planting challenges. Some wheat has begun to sprout in the fields.

Much of our wheat crop was ready for harvest a couple of weeks ago when the cool rainy weather hit. In some areas the change in conditions caused the wheat to break dormancy and begin to sprout. The degree of loss from sprouting depends on time, moisture and variety. Sprouted grain produces lower quality flour and products made from flour. Wheat is ultimately purchased on milling quality; therefore the degree of sprouting damage at harvest directly affects the value of the crop. Wheat that is unsuitable for milling can be sold or used as livestock feed. Flour quality wheat, however brings a premium over feed wheat.

Visible indications of pre-harvest sprouting are kernel swelling, germ discoloration, and seed-coat splitting and shoot emergence. What actually happens to cause pre-harvest sprouting? Three to four weeks after flowering wheat grains reach maximum size and begin to ripen. The seed coat layer and the endosperm cells remain alive but dormant. Rainfall just before harvest can cause dormancy to be broken. Individual kernels within a grain head can absorb water differently therefore only a portion of the kernels may sprout. I have seen quite a bit of variability across the county. Fortunately not each field got varying amounts of rain, so some are not experiencing this problem.

Timely harvest is the best way for farmers to avoid pre-harvest sprouting of wheat. This year weather kept most from harvesting their wheat at the ideal time. The best defense possible is being prepared to harvest when wheat reaches 20 percent moisture, if you have the ability to dry or 15 percent moisture if drying is not an option.

If you have questions about sprout damaged wheat contact the Burke County Extension Office at (706)554-2119.

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