There’s time and lots of good reasons to plant winter wheat this fall, says an agronomist with the Western Winter Wheat Initiative.
“Canola crops are really coming in here fast,” Ken Gross said from his Brandon office Aug. 21. The Western Winter Wheat Initiative is a collaboration between Bayer Crop Science, Richardson International and Ducks Unlimited to promote winter wheat production as a viable crop option in Western Canada.
There were concerns whether canola, the preferred stubble for winter wheat seeding, would be harvested late after many fields in the southwest had to be reseeded.
But swathing was expected to be well underway this week if the weather co-operated, Lionel Kaskiw, a crop production adviser with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development in Souris, said during a webinar Aug. 19.
As of last week, canola harvest is even more advanced in central Manitoba. However, canola maturity is more delayed in the northwest, said Jake Davidson, executive manager of Winter Cereals Manitoba.
To be eligible for full crop insurance coverage, Manitoba farmers must seed winter wheat between Aug. 20 and Sept. 15. However, they can seed as late as Sept. 20 and get 80 per cent of normal coverage.
Seeding winter wheat early is better because it gives the crop more time to get established, Gross said. Ideally winter wheat should go into dormancy with three- or four-leaf leaves. Smaller plants don’t store enough nutrients and energy in their crowns, which help with stress and regrowth in the spring. Late seeding also increases the risk the crop will flower when the risk of fusarium head blight is highest.
Good stubble will trap snow to insulate winter wheat helping it to survive the winter, Gross said. While canola stubble is considered among the best, other stubbles can work.
Although crop insurance recommends seeding into stubble, it no longer requires it since dropping coverage on winter wheat that winterkills. Farmers used to be able to get 75 per cent of their winter wheat coverage if the crop didn’t survive winter; now they are only eligible for a 25 per cent reseeding claim. However, once winter wheat is established in the spring, it’s fully covered.
Gross recommends treating winter wheat seed with a fungicide.
“I’ve seen the benefits in trials and it’s cheap insurance,” he said. “It makes for a more uniform and healthy stand.”
Even stands are easier to protect from fusarium with a fungicide, Gross said.
Upping the seeding rate and shallow seeding increase stand uniformity, he said. Planting more seeds is also recommended when seeding late to offset winter losses.
Thirty plants per square foot is ideal. That can be achieved by seeding 2.5 bushels an acre, or following this formula: Pounds per acre = desired plant population/ft2 X 1,000 kernel wt. (in grams)/seedling survival rate (0.70) / 10.
Thousand kernel weight is used as the average number of seeds per pound varies. A seedling survival rate of 0.70 is used to take into account germination and emergence, which is similar to spring crops plus the impact of winter survival.
While farmers might be tempted to seed deeper to reach moisture, Gross recommends seeding one-half inch to 1.5 inches. As little as two-tenths of an inch of rain can be enough to trigger germination, he said.
Most farmers have the equipment to seed shallow, but to do it, they need to reduce seeding speed.
Winter wheat yields average 40 per cent more than spring wheat so it needs 10 to 20 per cent more nitrogen, Gross said. To maximize yield potential the nitrogen needs to be available by the four- to five-leaf stage early in the growing season. A wet spring might delay that, so Gross recommends applying half the nitrogen in the fall.
Choose your class
Farmers have a number of winter wheats to choose from. Gross recommends one that’s eligible for the Canada Western Red Winter class — a class that pays more because it’s aimed at milling markets.
CDC Falcon, once Manitoba’s most popular winter wheat, has been moved to the Canada Western General Purpose class — a class created for fuel and feed use.
Manitoba farmers grew 159,375 insured, (excluding pedigreed seed and organic) acres of winter wheat in 2015, the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) reports. Flourish was the most popular accounting for 55 per cent or 87,656 of the commercial acres.
Emerson was almost as popular at 54 per cent. It’s the only winter wheat rated “R” or resistant to fusarium head blight. However, under heavy disease pressure, Emerson can still be infected.
Since Emerson is five inches taller than CDC Falcon, Gross says farmers in the Red River Valley might want to consider AAC Gateway because it’s shorter.
However, Seed Manitoba rates both as “Very Good” for lodging resistance.
AAC Gateway is rated “Intermediate” for fusarium and “Fair” for winter hardiness versus Emerson’s “R” rating for fusarium and “Good” rating for hardiness.
Farmers should consider winter wheat because it can yield more than spring wheat, potentially generating more net revenue, Gross said. It’s also a way to spread out a farmer’s work.
“That’s important as farms get bigger,” he said. “It provides some risk management and can reduce the stress in a wet year to have a crop already seeded.”
Winter wheat is also good for waterfowl. It’s home to 24 times more nesting birds than spring cereals because it provides protection from predators about three weeks earlier in the spring, Gross said.