Variety selection

Last updated February 23, 2014

Criteria for selecting small grain varieties

Choose the kinds of small grains and varieties that are best for your needs. You can grow small grains for a cash crop, livestock feed (grazing, hay, silage, feed grain), or as a cover crop for soil and water conservation. You should plant the best varieties available as this is important in the successful production of small grains. 

Use improved varieties

  • Good winterhardiness in winter types
  • Stiff straw
  • Plant stature
  • Disease resistant

Choose the kinds of small grains and varieties that are best for your needs

  • Wheat, barley, and oats usually produce more grain than rye. 
  • Rye is the most winter hardy of the small grains, followed by wheat, barley, and oats.
  • Rye also produces more forage than oats and wheat, but rye is a poor grain producer.
  • Wheat and barley make better silage than oats and rye. 
  • Wheat and oats make better hay than barley and rye.
  • Wheat and rye are generally sown as cover crops.

All can be used as a feed grain supplement depending upon the type of livestock fed. Barley and oats are better for dairy cattle and hogs, while wheat is used mostly in poultry rations. The potential for using barley as a feed for young turkeys and other poultry appears to be promising. Oats are fed to horses and are the most palatable small grain feed, while rye is the least desirable. Interest in oats is also increasing because consumption of oat bran lowers cholesterol levels in humans.


Cross between wheat and rye, can be grown for grain, grazing, and silage. The protein content of triticale averages from 14 to 18 percent with the lysine content approximately double that of wheat or corn. Triticale varieties will differ in winter hardiness and will mature in approximately one week after wheat. Most triticale varieties can withstand periods of drought stress better than wheat, and test weights range from 48 to 52 pounds per bushel. Cultural practices for triticale are similar to those for other small grains. The future of triticale looks promising as a feed source for swine.

Market classes of wheat grown in U.S.

  1. HRW - Central and Southern Great Plains - KS, OK, TX, CO, NB, MO

  2. HRS - Northern Great Plains - ND, MN, MT, SD

  3. SRW - East of Mississippi River - Il, OH, IN, GA

  4. White - WA, OR, MI, NY

  5. Durum - ND

In Wisconsin three types of wheat are grown:

  • SRW - predominant type
  • HRS - small acreage
  • SWW - very small acreage

Hard Red Winter Wheat is not grown in Wisconsin

  • Too much humidity and rainfall, particularly after heading
  • HRW wheats tend to turn soft when grown in Wisconsin

Hard Red Spring Wheat

Can produce adequate breadmaking wheat in Wisconsin because post-heading growth period is later for HRS than HRW

Usually produce better-quality HRS wheat in drier seasons

Not unusual for Wisconsin's HRS to have poor baking quality

Protein percentage in wheat

Hard wheats: High protein % is important

Want high protein % in bread

Dark Northern Spring Wheat is considered to have the best milling and baking quality

The "standard" protein % is 14%

Premiums are paid when protein is above 14%

Discounts are taken when protein is below 14%

Soft wheats: Traditionally, they have been selected for low protein percentage

Use improved wheat cultivars

Varieties will perform differently at various locations and under different environmental conditions. There are significant differences in characteristics among varieties of each kind of grain. When choosing varieties, grain yield is usually the primary concern. However, with small grains, other factors, such as resistance to lodging, diseases, and insects; maturity (potential for double-cropping with soybeans); winter hardiness and ability to withstand adverse weather conditions causing shattering; milling quality; and test weight should be considered. These factors will affect and determine the final yield of grain or forage. Thoroughly study the characteristics of varieties adapted to your area.

Characteristics of improved cultivars

Good winterhardiness in winter wheats

Stiff straw and plant stature

Disease resistant

Baking quality

By diversifying and spreading out the harvesting period, the risks of losses from weather-related conditions, diseases, and other problems will be greatly reduced. Do not try to cut costs by saving your own seed. This can lead to increased weed and disease problems, poor germination, and possibly reduced yields. Grow seed that has high quality, high germination, and is relatively free of weeds. Certified seed is a good seed source. 

Plant stature

Semi-dwarfs important in Pacific NW Spring Wheat

Over 80% of the HRSW acreage in the US is planted to semi-dwarfs

Advantages of semi-dwarfs

Stand better in highly fertile soils

Often capable of producing very high yields in highly fertile soils (See p 7‑19)

Have a higher HI

Easy to harvest (if weeds are controlled)

Disadvantages of semi-dwarfs

Lower straw yields

Usually have more emergence problems because coleoptile is shorter

May have more weed problems

May have less stress tolerance because root systems tend to be shallower

Good disease resistance

Varietal resistance is the cheapest way to control diseases. 

High fertility results in thick vegetative growth - excellent environment for diseases. Disease resistance may break down at high fertility levels

Higher levels of resistance should result in better protection against disease and reduce the amount of chemical protection that is required

Early maturing varieties can be double cropped, but they are not often as winter hardy as medium- to late-maturing varieties. A variety with good straw strength decreases the possibility of lodging and the possible need of an anti-lodging agent. 

Several high-yielding, disease-resistant varieties with strong straw strength are available. No one variety possesses all the desirable agronomic characteristics. Therefore, planting more than one variety can enhance profits.

Quality influences milling and bread-making

Varieties with high test weights generally eliminate certain marketing penalties. 

Milling objectives are to:

Pulverize the kernel

Separate the kernel layers (for white bread)

White bread made entirely from wheat endosperm pericarp, embryo, and part of the aleurone are removed

Whole wheat bread made from the whole kernel, so more nutritious because of - PROTEIN - FIBER - OIL - VITAMINS - MINERALS. Whole wheat bread is more difficult to store because oil leads to rancidity problems

The main characteristic that determines the use of wheat is GLUTEN

GLUTEN a cohesive, protein-type of substance which gives wheat flour its STRETCHABILITY and STRENGTH

The 5 MARKET CLASSES of wheat differ according to QUANTITY and QUALITY of gluten

Wheat Quantity Quality Use
HRW, HRS High High Bread
Durum High Low Macaroni
SRW, White Low Low Pastries, cookies cakes, cereals

Gluten quality is affected by environment. Desirable conditions for good gluten quality are:

Fertile soil

Warm (but not humid) growing conditions, particularly after heading

Limited rainfall after heading

Minimal disease problems

Further Reading

Wheat variety selection strategies

Wisconsin Winter wheat variety trial results

Wisconsin Small Grains variety trial results

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