Variety selection is a crucial early decision for Southwest wheat farmers, and they should pay attention to more than just yield potential, says a Texas AgriLife Extension agronomist.

Travis Miller, Extension soil sciences associate head and agronomist, said wheat farmers should look at variety trial results to determine the best options for their operations.

He recommends producers make decisions based on at least three years of trial data and at several locations.

Plenty of information is available, Miller told participants at the recent Big Country Wheat Conference in Abilene.

“Texas A&M has two breeding programs, one focused on Amarillo and Vernon and one at College Station and Texas A&M-Commerce.”

He said Bayer CropScience, Syngenta, Limagrain and WestBred also operate wheat breeding projects.

“We have significant testing programs for the significant wheat producing areas of the state,” Miller said. “We also test varieties statewide.”

Wheat breeders work 12 to 15 years to bring a new variety on line. “And we test thousands of wheat lines each year. We also run uniform variety trials every year at 30 locations across the state. We test 30 entries with about 8 local interest varieties. County agents also test varieties of local interest.”

Miller said growers should look at variety stability as they make planting decisions. “Look at multiple years and multiple locations. We recommend at least three years of stability for any variety.”

He also suggested wheat producers look at unusual circumstances that might affect a particular year’s data. The recent drought, for instance, limited production and reliable data in many locations. “We look at a coefficient of variability,” Miller said. “If the number is above 15, we throw out that data because something other than genetics caused yield losses.”

He said weather or heavy insect infestation could ruin a year’s data.

Miller said disease resistance is another key factor to evaluate in a wheat variety.  Barley yellow dwarf  control may benefit from some new varieties with resistance. The disease is transmitted by aphids so he recommends keeping fence rows clean to minimize infestation. Seed treatments to help control the insect pests also may help.

Several wheat varieties have some resistance to rust diseases—stripe rust or leaf rust. Selecting a resistant variety is a good first step, but if farmers plant susceptible varieties they still have options. “Scout and spray in the spring,” he said. Leaf rust comes on later than stripe rust, from two to three weeks later.

“Do your homework. Pick resistant varieties if they are available and then scout and be ready to spray. Fungicides are not as expensive as they used to be and may cost as little as $2 to$3 per acre. But if a farmer misses treatment (On susceptible varieties) yield loss may be significant.”

He said a disease called dryland foot rot may also cause trouble. “Rotation is the best bet. Seed treatment and wheat straw management are also important options. The disease lives on wheat straw.”

Regardless of the location and regardless of the past history of varieties, Miller recommends staying abreast of new breeding developments and new information coming out of variety trials. Resistance, over time, breaks down and tried-and-true options may not perform as well as they once did. And new varieties may offer better agronomic, resistance and quality characteristics that offer better value.

Information is one of the best tools a wheat farmer has at his disposal.