The importance of sowing winter wheat into stubble is underscored in a winter like this one that saw less snow before the cold temperatures arrived, MAFRD extension officials told farmers attending St. Jean Farm Days.
“We’ve gotten away with murder in a lot of years when we haven’t had really good stubble conditions, so then we start to think about that being the norm, but we really need to be careful that we have good stubble in order to have good snow cover,” said Ingrid Kristjanson, a crop production specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
This year, most of Manitoba has had less snowfall than last winter, and a warm December caused a significant amount of melting.
“If you’ve got the snow cover, you’re in good shape,” Kristjanson said. “I guess there is a little bit of concern when we hit those really warm temperatures in December… there is a possibility that if there was a place where it was already fairly bare, then with the warm temperature you might have some areas rise above zero, so that could potentially be a bit of a concern, we don’t really know yet.”
Mike Wroblewski, a meteorologist with MAFRD’s crop knowledge centre, noted a lot can still change in the coming weeks and months, but speaking at St. Jean Farm Days he said that more snowfall would be helpful for winter wheat producers.
“Snow sublimates all year long, if we don’t get any more snow and we have relatively dry conditions, there’s the possibility that through the wind and the air that could disappear,” Wroblewski said, noting that’s a worse-case scenario.
He added that last spring’s brief, early warm-up followed by extremely cold temperatures caused difficulty for winter wheat producers.
“For us, we’re always more concerned about really cold weather,” Kristjanson said. “But the good thing about winter wheat is that early in the season is when it’s the most cold tolerant.
“The plant will slowly move out of dormancy as we get into the spring, so as long as we have good snow cover and protection, variability in the weather will not have as big of an impact. If we get those days in February where we sometimes get a melt or a rain, then have ice covering, then it gets colder, that’s a bigger risk,” she added.
While bare spots are visible on some fields in southern Manitoba, winter wheat fields with stubble shouldn’t have open soil patches.
“Certainly if you’re starting to see black spots in the field, then you know that you need to have better stubble to ensure good snow cover on your winter wheat,” Kristjanson said.