Farmers preparing to plant winter wheat might consider blending varieties for a stable yield.

Crop production specialist Jim Shroyer with Kansas State University Research and Extension said blending wheat varieties will spread out performance risk. "While any one variety may do much better or worse than other varieties in the same vicinity, having a blend of two or three varieties can usually even out those ups and downs," he said.

Shroyer said he prefers three-way blends. Studies show that farmers who use three-way blends can lose two varieties and yet still get up to 60 to 70 percent of normal yields from the third variety.

When choosing the components of a blend, it is important for the varieties to be genetically diverse. After yield potential, Shroyer said the most important thing to look for is different types of disease resistance.

He also recommended spreading out maturity of the varieties over three to five days. "If producers can spread out the maturity a bit, there is a better chance that at least one of the varieties can benefit from a given weather pattern," he said. "For example, a later- maturing variety might take better advantage of a late rain than an early-maturing variety."

But spreading out maturity has its price as well. If the early variety has a shattering problem, farmers may wish to harvest as soon as it matures, taking a moisture discount on the late-maturing varieties rather than losing grain yield on the early variety.

Shroyer said farmers also should consider blending varieties with different levels of winter hardiness and spring green up tendencies.

"If there are high-yielding varieties available, but which have poor winter hardiness or a tendency to break dormancy early in the spring, blend them with varieties that have better winter hardiness or stronger spring dormancy," he said.

Shroyer also said not to be afraid of using the newest varieties in a blend; however, he prefers to watch a new variety grow by itself for a year to identify its unique strengths and weaknesses. After this trial period, it is easier to determine with which other varieties it should be blended.

Although blending wheat varieties has many advantages, Shroyer said there are disadvantages as well. Blends do not provide the same management flexibility as a pure variety. They also are unlikely to result in the highest yields in any given year. Many farmers, however, would prefer the stability in yield that comes from a blend over the uncertainty with pure varieties.