Volunteer wheat is a fact of life in wheat production. Since no combine is perfect, there is always plenty of grain left on the ground to produce volunteer. If you are unlucky and get some shattering or hail just before harvest, even more volunteer is produced.

 


Volunteer wheat is a fact of life in wheat production. Since no combine is perfect, there is always plenty of grain left on the ground to produce volunteer. If you are unlucky and get some shattering or hail just before harvest, even more volunteer is produced.
Some people don’t think this is a problem. They look at volunteer wheat and see potential pasture. Others see a good ground cover to keep their land from blowing.
Some farmers think that they don’t have time to control their volunteer. Still others don’t want to pay the cost of volunteer destruction, which is some extra expense to an already expensive crop.
The truth is that volunteer wheat is the source of some severe problems and may actually cost much more if not controlled. The cost of not controlling volunteer may hurt you and it may also hurt your neighbors.
What are the Risks from Volunteer Wheat?
The most important threat from volunteer wheat is wheat streak mosaic virus. It causes stunting and yellow streaking on the leaves. This devastating disease can occur anywhere in the state, but is most prevalent in central and western Kansas. On average, Kansas’s farmers lose 10 million bushels per year to this disease. Many fields are completely destroyed.
In most cases, infection can be traced to a nearby field of volunteer wheat. Volunteer wheat is important because it is the main reservoir (or the “green bridge”) to wheat streak mosaic virus during the summer and early fall. Control of volunteer is the main defense against wheat streak mosaic.
The wheat curl mite carries the virus from volunteer to newly planted wheat. These tiny, white, cigar-shaped mites are too small to be seen with the naked eye. The curl mite uses the wind to carry it to new hosts and can travel up to half a mile from volunteer wheat. In addition to carrying wheat streak mosaic, it also causes curling of leaf margins and head trapping.
How Can Volunteer Wheat Be Controlled?
Depending on the weather, there may be several flushes of volunteer wheat during the summer.  Producers sometimes question whether early flushes of volunteer need to be controlled.
Volunteer which emerges soon after harvest (as occurs when heads are shattered by hail) is actually a more serious threat than later emerging volunteer. That’s because it permits pests to move directly from maturing wheat to the new volunteer. Moisture loss is also greatest with early volunteer. Therefore, early destruction of volunteer is often beneficial.
In any case, it is critical that all volunteer within one half mile be completely dead at least two weeks prior to planting. Destroying volunteer after the new wheat emerges is too late. Give yourself enough time to have a second chance if control is incomplete.
Tillage and herbicides are the two options available for volunteer control. Sometimes, they are often combined for an effective control program that leaves much of the stubble in place.
Grazing out the volunteer is not an effective option since it does not complete control. This allows diseases and insects to survive and infest the new crop. The best approach will depend on available crop residue levels, conservation compliance plans, presence of other weeds, crop rotations, costs, available equipment, etc.
Neighbor Cooperation Is the Key
Even if you control your volunteer, diseases and insects from your neighbor’s volunteer may still attack your wheat. Like the old saying goes, one bad apple can spoil the whole barrel.
That’s why neighbor cooperation in volunteer control is the key to success. If certain neighbors don’t have time to control their volunteer, perhaps they will let you do it and cover your fuel bill.
Neighbors also need to cooperate in locating “hidden” volunteer. The obvious place to look is in wheat stubble. However, you often miss some along field edges, waterways, behind hedgerows, or in double-crop ground.
Since insects and diseases can be carried by the wind, scouting must be done for at least one-half mile around the new field. Be sure to look in the direction of the prevailing wind.
Remember, good neighbors control their volunteer wheat.