Is there any meaningful value in volunteer wheat?

 Occasional stands, though “free,” tend to hold false promise.


Calvin Trostle, Ph.D., Professor & Extension Agronomist, TAMU Dept. of Soil & Crop Sciences, Lubbock, (806) 746-6101,




A Floyd Co., Texas farmer sent the pic below of what I regard as the “best” stand of volunteer wheat I have ever seen.  “What will happen to this wheat?” the farmer asked.  “Can I use it?”


Fig. 1.  Volunteer wheat in Floyd Co. that is thick enough to prompt questions about whether a farmer could keep this stand in lieu of terminating and seeding a new crop.  (Photo courtesy Ronnie & Cutter Ragland.)


This wheat stand is thick enough it challenges us to think maybe the farmer could keep it and save seed costs, planting, etc.  Is this a case of ‘A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush’?  I have known numerous Texas wheat fields over the years where it appears tempting to hang on to a volunteer field as a potential crop.  It feels like a free crop of wheat.  Afterall, wheat is a variety (unlike a hybrid) so last year’s TAM 204 or TAM 115 is still same.


Alas, most of these wheat fields never seem to deliver much sustained productivity.  (If you know of a volunteer wheat field success, I would like to learn about it.)  Yes, the farmer didn’t pay for the seed, the stand, etc.  But in general, AgriLife’s observes these stands lack vigor and durability of production.  They are generally not worth keeping.


Disease Potential in Volunteer Wheat


Many stands of volunteer wheat I have seen (High Plains) have not been healthy as they grow further into the fall.  Scott Strawn, AgriLife Extension agent, Ochiltree Co. (top of the Texas Panhandle) notes that volunteer wheat in his area, especially if emerging early in August, is especially prone to poor health.  It is rarely if ever worth keeping, no matter how good it looks.


The culprit is Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus (WSMV).  Being a virus the only means to control this disease is through resistant/tolerant varieties (which many TAM and company varieties are) and cultural practices.  WSMV is carried by the wheat curl mite.  Though this insect is a weak flyer, it moves WSMV not so much from one field to the next rather, from one wheat crop to the next wheat crop in the same field.  This bridging of disease can be the downfall of volunteer wheat.  Fields need to be clean for a couple weeks for the wheat curl mite to die out and before the next wheat crop is seeded.

For further information:

To my knowledge WSMV and wheat curl mite are likely more an issue in the Texas High Plains.  Other diseases and cultural issues could affect volunteer small grains in other Texas regions.


What to do with ‘good’ existing volunteer wheat?—Graze it out!


Randall Co. ag. Extension agent J.D. Ragland (this was his dad’s field) noted that with hay shortages the volunteer wheat above does have immediate forage value.  Though the stand may not have lasting vigor and persistence, a stand like Fig. 1 can be grazed out before replacing it with seeded wheat.  This is valuable especially due to the hot summer and shortage of forage.  Replacing the existing stand with seeded wheat in early October may not provide any grazing value until after the first of the year.  Typically, a volunteer wheat field would be terminated early in the fall to prepare for the next round of wheat.  But too often that early promise of a viable, productive wheat crop for grazing or grain fades with further development leading to a poor volunteer wheat crop.


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