“We had two good years,” Norman says. “It will be hard to duplicate last year.”

Better varieties are one reason, Aycock believes. Farmers in the area plant almost all soft red winter wheat varieties, capitalizing on higher yield potential than they could get from hard red winter choices. He and Swart cite Terral 8861 and Pioneer 25R30 and 25R40 as three of the best. “The 2540 is the prettiest wheat there is,” Aycock says.

Those varieties have meshed well with recommended planting dates, too. Several Hessian fly infestations have encouraged farmers to delay planting until after the flies are no longer viable in the fall. If they emerge with no wheat host available they perish.  Consequently, farmers have been opting for a late October planting window to avoid Hessian fly damage.

“Planting late is also an advantage because of less potential for freeze damage,” Swart says.

Aycock and Norman are making plans for topdressing wheat and agree that it’s a bit of a balancing act to apply nitrogen at the right time—waiting as long as possible to get the most benefit but not waiting too long and risk losing yield.

“I’m looking at soil tests,” Aycock says. “I band phosphate and zinc and add potassium and other nutrients. I’m about a month away from topdressing.”

Norman uses a split application to make certain wheat has adequate nutrients in season.

“I don’t want to run out of nitrogen,” Aycock says. “I like to wait as long as I can, but if I wait too late I lose some yield. I think it’s true for any crop; when you see nitrogen getting low, you’ve already lost yield.”

He’s also using a nitrogen stabilizer.

He says wheat may actually need a little more nitrogen than corn. “With corn, we can apply 130 units of nitrogen and get 100 bushels of corn and still have some nitrogen left. With wheat, we probably need to add some more.”

Aycock and other Northeast Texas wheat farmers have been battling ryegrass for several years, some of it herbicide resistant.

Swart says if farmers work the soil early, let ryegrass emerge and then clean it up and plant, they may avoid bad infestations. Aycock says cleaning up emerging ryegrass with Roundup gives the wheat an opportunity to germinate and grow and then shade out the ryegrass. He’s also using Axial herbicide to provide longer control.

Swart says a combination of Axiom early and Axial later is the best option currently available for resistant ryegrass.

Fungicide use has become a routine cost of production, too, Swart says. “I’ll use it,” Aycock says. “With the cost as low as it is, it just makes sense.”

Swart says tebuconazole has been a good investment for the past few years. “We’ve seen a good bump in yields, even with disease resistant varieties.”

“It pays several times over,” Aycock adds.

Norman and Aycock are also looking ahead to corn planting. Norman may start as soon as the last few days of February, but March 1 is the typical target date. They prefer risking a little cold damage early than planting late. Spring rains the last two years interrupted planting.

“It seems like we would plant for three or four days, stay out for ten days and start back again,” Norman says. “It takes time for these soils to dry out after a rainfall.”

“At planting time, it gets late in a hurry,” Aycock says. “Planting corn in mid-April is almost never good.”

“I’d rather plant early and suffer some cold damage than plant late,” Norman says.

Both will have a bit less corn than usual. Corn yields have been a bit off the last two years, limited by drought, but production losses in this area were not as bad as in other parts of the Southwest.