Somewhere between putting grain in the bin after harvest and putting seed in the drill for planting, Texas wheat producers should pay attention to seed quality, said a Texas Cooperative Extension agent.

“During the past two years, wheat farmers have dealt with record-setting drought, heavy foliar disease pressure and a breakdown of leaf rust resistance,” said Miles Dabovich, Extension agent for agriculture and natural resources in Wichita County. “This year we added record-setting rainfall to that equation.”

The wet spring and summer have raised concerns about wheat sprouting before harvest, he said.

“Wheat that has initiated germination will be lower quality seed, whether it is simply swollen or already has a root exposed,” Dabovich said. “This type of seed will have lower germination and less seedling vigor.”

“Pre-harvest Sprouting in Wheat,” a publication by Extension small grain specialist Gaylon Morgan, notes that starch in the wheat kernel is converted to sugars when the kernel absorbs moisture and begins to germinate. This publication is online at http://tcebookstore.org/.

“These sugars don't keep or store as well as starch,” Dabovich said. “Germination percentage and the energy available for seedling vigor both suffer while the seed is in storage.

“Seed tested right after harvest may have germination sometimes as high as 90 percent, while seed tested after three months of storage may have germination below 50 percent.”

So is this type of wheat suitable as seed?

“It depends on your situation. It's a good idea to gauge seed quality by conducting a germination test prior to planting. Don't rely on a post-harvest germination test.

“If a pre-planting test indicates 75 percent germination, about 25 percent of what you put in the drill isn't going to germinate. Trying to compensate for poor quality seed by increasing seeding rate isn't feasible when you are planting wheat for forage, or for forage and grain. And it is very risky when you are planting wheat for grain, even when soil temperature and moisture are good.”

If the pre-planting test indicates high levels of Smut or other serious disease, the seed is not worth using. However, if low levels are detected, the seed may be suitable if a fungicide seed treatment is used, he said.

If germination, potential seedling vigor or disease raises doubts about seed quality, the best bet is to buy and plant proven seed. “Target planting for the optimum time, soil conditions and planting depth,” Dabovich said.

“Quality seed has good germination and seedling vigor, two of the main ingredients of forage and grain yields.

“With the harvest conditions we had this year, keeping seed quality in mind could help some producers avoid a crop wreck later this fall.”