Growing Hard Red Wheat

Growing Hard Red Wheat

Production Practices for Growing Hard Red (Bread) Wheat in Virginia

Summary by Dr. Dan Brann

The following is mostly a summary of Virginia Tech Publication 424-024 “Growing Bread Wheat in the Mid-Atlantic Region” by Wade Thomason, Carl Griffey, Mark Alley, Eric Stromberg, Ames Herbert, and Scott Hagood.


  • Approximately 30 percent of the wheat milled in the Mid-Atlantic Region is bread wheat (Hard Red Winter)

  • Bread wheat marketing is solely through contracts with elevators and millers

  • Bread wheat is usually grown in semi-arid regions, has a wide range of protein content, usually averaging near 12 percent, and is used to bake bread, rolls, and all-purpose flour.

  • Soft red winter wheat (SR W) generally has a lower protein content and is used to make cookies, cakes crackers and some flat breads.

  • Over 80 percent of the weight of the wheat kernel is starchy endosperm, the part milled to produce flour. Surrounding the starch granules is a matrix of gluten-forming proteins. In SRW wheat the starch granules are loosely attached to the protein making the wheat easy to grind and produces fine textured flour. In bread wheat the binding of the starch granules to the protein is much stronger requiring more force to crush the kernel and resulting in coarse-textured flour.

Production Considerations

Variety Considerations Yield potential, end-use quality, and product consistency are all critically important when selecting varieties to be produced for specific markets. Fortunately in the Mid-Atlantic there are opportunities to blend wheat from multiple regions to produce flour meeting quality specifications.

Genetic traits such as disease resistance, standability, and maturity are important to successful production of quality wheat without excessive expenditures on inputs. Varieties having high genetic test weight are more likely to withstand wetter harvest conditions and still achieve acceptable test weights.

End-use quality is paramount to success in identity-preserved markets; therefore, using certified seed to ensure variety identity is critical to success.

Seeding The key to building high yield potential is timely establishment of an appropriate population of uniformly emerging wheat. The recommended planting date for no till planted wheat is about two weeks before the first fall freeze to one week after the first fall freeze. Conventionally planted wheat should not be planted more than one week before the first fall frost. Thus, in the mountains wheat can be planted starting the first of October, about October 10th in the piedmont and upper coastal plains, and the last week of October in the tidewater region.

Varieties that are medium to late heading or those that are day-length sensitive regarding initiation of heading should be first. Varieties that are early or not day-length sensitive can get excessive growth in the winter or early spring resulting in potential freeze damage.

Seeding rates should be adjusted based on timeliness of planting, tillage, and variety. In general the optimum planting rate is about 2,200,000 seeds per acre or 50 seeds/sq. ft. under high yield potential conditions when timely planting no till with heavy residue (45 seeds/square foot in conventional tillage). Thus when planting no tillage the general seeding rate recommended would be 31 seeds/row ft. for 7.5 inch rows and 33 seeds/row ft. for 8 inch rows. Seeding rates should be increased by about 2-4 seeds/ row foot when planting more than a week later than optimum.

Seed should be planted 0.75 to 1.25 inches below the soil surface, not counting the residue layer in no tillage to improve early growth and reduce the potential of winter freeze injury.

Fertilization Soil samples should be taken to the depth of the plow layer or 3-4 inches deep in continuous no till. If lime is needed it should be applied as far ahead of planting as possible.

Adequate available fall fertilizer is critical to successful wheat production. Pre-plant and fall fertilization practices must be adjusted based on soil test levels for phosphorus, potassium, and sulfur. Readily available nitrogen for the small root system is critical. The rate of pre-plant nitrogen should be adjusted based on estimates of residual nitrogen based on the previous crop yield. Often 25-35 pounds of nitrogen/acre is adequate to support early fall growth. Further nitrogen applications should be season and site specific. Topdressing nitrogen is especially critical with no till seeding. Pay close attention to tiller density in the fall and winter and apply nitrogen as needed to develop the tillers essential to produce high yields. Total nitrogen application rates will likely vary from 100 to 150 pounds/acre.

Virginia Tech research has also shown that inherent genetic protein potential and composition of a given variety has a major impact on the magnitude and biological significance of late season nitrogen on flour and end use characteristics. More information is needed to quantify the response of individual varieties to nitrogen management.

Adequate available sulfur is critical to enhancing grain protein levels with late season nitrogen. In Virginia Tech Research, addition of 30 pounds/acre of sulfur at jointing increased protein levels from 11.8 percent to 12.3 percent. The need to apply additional sulfur is best determined by a tissue analysis at jointing. A nitrogen/sulfur ratio above 15: 1 indicates a likely grain yield response to sulfur and a ratio of 10: 1 a protein response. When growing bread wheat it is better to apply some sulfur that may not be needed than limit yields or protein levels by insufficient sulfur. If tissue analysis is not planned it would likely be best to apply about 20 pounds of sulfur in the late winter and/or jointing nitrogen application.

The need to apply micronutrients should be evaluated by soil and/or tissue analysis.

Weed and Insect Control Weed and insect control recommendations are the same for SRW and bread wheat production. Refer to the Virginia Cooperative Extension Pest Management Guide, publication 456-016 for specific recommendations.

Disease Management There are many diseases that can dramatically reduce wheat yield and quality such as take-all, and viruses such as barley yellow dwarf and wheat spindle streak. The major diseases that will be discussed in this paper are the diseases that can be reduced by applying fungicides from late tillering to flowering.

Powdery mildew is a potential concern from late winter through grain fill. Genetic resistance is the most economical and potentially effective means of controlling powdery mildew. Other leaf diseases that can affect wheat in the spring through grain fill period are leaf rust, stripe rust, tan spot, and Stagonospora leaf and glume blotch. Fields should be scouted frequently from jointing through flowering for disease incidence and severity.

An especially damaging disease that can greatly reduce yield and make wheat unfit for flour production is fusarium head blight or scab. There is no single tactic that will provide assurance that scab will not be a problem. When we no till wheat into com residue we potentially challenge the degree of genetic resistance and effectiveness of fungicides to keep the DON toxin levels below the one ppm required for wheat used to produce flour for human consumption. Fusarium infection can be low if no rainfall occurs when wheat is flowering and/or the high temperatures are in the 50-60 degree range. Head infection is most severe when moist, wann weather occurs during flowering and fungal spores are present.

If multiple rains occur during anthesis (flowering), the incidence and severity of scab can dramatically increase if temperatures are favorable for infection (fusarium growth is greatly reduced at temperatures less than 60 degrees). Pennsylvania State University has developed a model that can be useful in predicting the need for fungicide application to reduce fusarium infection. It can be found at There is no fungicide treatment once the head is infected and the disease has spread to other spiklets in the head.that will reduce toxin levels. Similar to SRW wheat, some bread wheat varieties exhibit moderate resistance to the spread of the pathogen from one spikelet in the head to other spikelets.

Research and experience of Dr. Don Hershman, Plant Pathologist at the University of Kentucky, has shown that Prosaro and Caramba are comparable for scab suppression and reduction of the DON toxin that can be produced. Price would be the major consideration in selecting between Prosaro and Caramba for scab control. Both of the above are superior to Folicur and comparable generics. Tilt, Headline, and Quilt are effective in controlling powdery mildew but they are not as effective in significantly reducing scab and may even increase DON levels in the grain. All of the above will control speckled leaf blotch, Stagonospora blotch, tan spot and rusts(leaf, stripe, and stem). All of the above should do a good job of controlling glume blotch as long as they are applied before the disease has reached yield/quality reducing levels. If any of the above diseases are above threshold levels it may NOT be advisable to wait until flowering when Prosaro and Caramba need to be applied to get maximum suppression of scab. Weather conditions before and projections for weather conditions after heading should be considered when making the decision of when to spray for control of late season leaflhead infections.

Combining Caramba at early flowering using a urea solution as the carrier can cause significant leaf burn as experienced by a VIPO producer in 2009. Combining other fungicides such as Prosaro with the urea application may also increase leafburn so check with a company representative before making such an application.

Harvesting Harvest and dry wheat the first time it reaches 20 percent moisture if you have a dryer. If drying is not possible harvest the first time it reaches 16 percent moisture and take directly to the elevator. Timely harvest to produce the highest quality possible is needed to earn bread wheat price premiums in our humid climate. Set the combine to reduce seed cracking as much as possible as conditions change during the harvesting day and season.

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