Heavy winter wheat losses in southwest

The first casualty of this spring’s unusually cold weather appears to be the winter wheat crop in the southwest.

Many fields are well below minimal plant stand populations and initial estimates are that 75 to 80 per cent of last fall’s winter wheat crop in the region will be reseeded, according to the latest crop report from Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

Crop insurance adjusters are out assessing stands, and many growers are faced with a decision whether to terminate the crop and reseed or gamble on it making a recovery, said provincial cereals specialist Pam de Rocquigny.

“For what we’ve been hearing, guys are reseeding due to the poorer plant stands,” said de Rocquigny.

Poor germination because of dry conditions at seeding time, stunted development going into the winter, and winterkill are all factors in many fields, but the knockout punch was a late, chilly spring, she said.

Winter wheat crops in the Red River Valley, which had more moisture at seeding, appear to be doing better, said Jake Davidson, executive manager of Winter Cereals Canada.

But in the area from Birtle to Hamiota, winter wheat losses could be as high as 100 per cent, he said.

“It’s not winterkill, it’s germination related,” said Davidson, adding ample snow cover was of no use to plants that were probably already dead due to the drought last fall.

However, in some areas, the crop seems to be doing well. Near his home in Minnedosa, Davidson said a field sown into summerfallow is “doing fantastic” with growth at four to five inches high already.

Scott Chalmers, a diversification technician at the Melita-based Western Agricultural Diversification Organization, said that all four of their winter wheat test plots at Melita, Hamiota, Boissevain, and Reston “look terrible.”

Although the plots were seeded on the ideal date of Sept. 7, “there was really no moisture whatsoever at any of the sites,” said Chalmers. It was a month before any rain fell, and the quarter of an inch received around Oct. 7 was just enough to stimulate growth of a small root, with minimal above-ground emergence.

“Then it froze,” he said. “It got cold in October, and the plants were kind of stuck in limbo.”

Initially, he thought the arrival of about 18 inches of snow would save the plots, but by spring it appeared many of the seeds hadn’t even germinated, much less vernalized. That means whatever plants sprout this spring may not even produce seed heads.

Stands look “skinny” and a lot of seeds were lost to rot. No seed treatment trials were undertaken this year, which is unfortunate, he added.

Three of the sites will be terminated shortly, but the Melita plots will be allowed to continue just to “see what happens,” he said.

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