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Eighth Strategic Farming: Let's talk crops session encouraged producers add small grains to their crop rotations

By Angie Peltier, UMN Extension crops educator, and Phyllis Bongard, UMN Extension educational content development and communications specialist

Corn and soybean pathogens and pests take advantage of the short crop rotations in the southern half of Minnesota. Diversifying one’s cropping system can lengthen the time that pests and pathogens are exposed to the elements between host crops and can reduce disease inoculum and pest pressure for the next time a host crop is grown.
On February 23, Drs. Jochum Wiersma, University of Minnesota Extension small grains specialist, and Jared Goplen, UMN Extension educator, joined UMN Extension educator Ryan Miller for a wide-ranging discussion of this and other benefits related to adding small grains into one’s rotation. This was the eighth episode of the 2022 Strategic Farming: Let’s talk crops! webinars in this series.

Don’t set yourself up for headaches by planting wheat, barley or oats after corn

The pathogen that causes Fusarium head blight (also known as scab), Fusarium graminearum, and mycotoxin contamination in small grains also causes stalk rot and ear mold diseases in corn. Three factors must be present for head scab to develop, a susceptible host crop, the pathogen and the environmental conditions that allow the crop and the pathogen to interact. While varietal resistance to head scab has been significantly improved through intensive breeding programs, no varieties are completely resistant and so the crop will still be at risk of disease. 

After a corn crop, there is likely to be a lot of F. graminearum inoculum left in the field on corn residue, meaning that the pathogen is also likely present. While we can choose the most scab resistant variety available, with so much disease potential being left up to the weather conditions that Mother Nature brings, giving infested corn residue another year to break down can reduce the amount of inoculum present in a field when you do plant a small grains crop.

Geopolitics and small grains economics

With the lead up to Russia’s most recent invasion of their neighbor Ukraine this week, the export markets for wheat have been shaken. According to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service’s global market analysis, Ukraine had been forecast to export a record 24 million tons of wheat and Russia 35 million tons of wheat in the 2021/2022 market year. The market year exports of US wheat is forecast to be 22 million tons. Interruptions in exports from Ukraine and Russia are likely to have wide-ranging implications for global consumption and, perhaps crudely stated, will also positively impact new crop wheat prices in the United States.

Audience members asked at what yields or prices would spring wheat be competitive with the corn-soybean rotation so widely seen in the southern half of Minnesota. Dr. Goplen shared that while the benefits of rotating corn and soybean, as opposed to growing continuous corn, have been well established, it isn’t as widely known that adding a third crop only increases this benefit. Adding wheat into the rotation can increase yields of both soybean and corn by about 8%. While returns in the wheat year will be a bit lower than in the soybean or corn year, over the length of the rotation, returns are similar to those in a corn-soybean rotation.

Variety selection is about more than just yield potential

While crop quality is not typically a routine worry for corn and soybean, except in very weedy fields (foreign material dockage), when ear molds are widespread or when an early frost results in a poor test-weight harvest, quality factors are a concern for small grains. In addition to dockage due to protein concentrations lower than 14%, fungal disease can result in dockage due to deoxynivalenol (often abbreviated as DON) contaminated grain caused by F. graminearum, a fungal pathogen of spring, winter and durum wheat and barley.

Making sure that the places that would be contracting for oats or accepting rye or other small grains crops want to accept the varieties that you would like to grow is also an important consideration.

Oil content of small grains can affect shelf life of the food that these grains are destined for. Lodging potential is also important if one wants to avoid picking up downed small grains. Forage quality (protein and energy content) is also a consideration for those that want to feed small grains to lactating cows and people also will need to follow recommendations (early planting, etc.) for small grains meant for livestock. Seed supply of popular varieties, particularly as people select oats and rye for cover crop seed, can be depleted in certain markets.

Fielding audience questions

Drs. Wiersma and Goplen answered many audience questions that were either asked live during the webinar or posed when attendees registered for the series, including: What about growth regulators for lodging? What does high nitrogen in the soil (manure) do for lodging potential? What are your recommendations regarding foliar fungicides? What about someone considering small grains for forage production? What are your recommendations regarding a small grain crop on heavy ground in southwest Minnesota? What are the malting characteristics of specific barley varieties? If we were a little on the dry side last fall, how should we adjust our seeding rate in 2022? How serious is drought stress on winter wheat in the central plains? What about growing corn after a small grains crop?

Watch a recording of this webinar.

Join the webinar series

University of Minnesota’s Strategic Farming: Let’s talk crops! webinar series, offered Wednesdays through March, features discussions with specialists to provide up-to-date, research-based information to help farmers and ag professionals optimize crop management strategies for 2022.

This Wednesday, join Dr. Ian MacRae, UMN Extension entomology specialist, and Bruce Potter, UMN Extension IPM specialist, as they answer audience questions and discuss how the 2021 drought affected pest pressure in 2021 and will have impacts into 2022 and how best to manage insect pests with fewer tools in our toolbox. For more information and to register, visit

Thanks to the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council and the Minnesota Corn Research & Promotion Council for their generous support of this program!

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