- Author: Sarah Light
- Contributor: Rachael Freeman Long
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Geese have been heavily foraging again in small grains and alfalfa fields this winter. Drought conditions led to heavy geese damage to Sacramento Valley fields in 2021. Why are they feeding heavily on crops again this year? Rice plays an important role in providing foraging habitat for geese. With acreage in the state down by about 50% this past year due to drought conditions, there's not enough feed to sustain them. In addition, feed shortages in the Klamath Basin, a major stopover for geese in their migration south, means more geese are coming into the Sacramento Valley earlier and hungrier, causing them to move out from refuges.
Fortunately, wheat will often bounce back from damage at early stages. Not all the tillers that wheat plants set will produce grain so losing some doesn't necessarily mean yield loss later in the season. Wheat should be able to grow back if roots and above ground growth tips are still healthy. However, if geese continue to feed on new growth, then the plant eventually won't be able to recover. Some plants may be completely gone and there's no coming back from that.
With tomato and other commodity prices high, some growers may be wondering if they should pull their geese-damaged wheat fields and replant into something else. How do you know if your wheat field will yield well?
If your wheat field has sustained heavy damage from geese, you can count tillers following predation to assess the likelihood of a successful stand. You can be assured geese damage won't result in yield loss if you have 30 tillers per square foot post predation. This doesn't necessarily mean the field will yield well, it just means that the tiller count won't be a factor that reduces your yield.
We've posted a lot on this blog about optimizing your nitrogen application in small grains by applying most of the nitrogen in-season instead of pre-plant. Another benefit of this management practice is that you might save money on upfront nitrogen costs and be able to make more reactive decisions in the case of unexpected events like pest damage. You can find more resources about implementing nitrogen rich strips here. You can also contact your local Agronomy Farm Advisor for more information.