Aproper spring assessment is an important part of successful winter wheat production. And as the weather heats up, now’s the time to start putting your assessment plans into motion.
Assessing the crop condition early is difficult as brown leaves do not necessarily denote winterkill and green leaves are not a guarantee of winter survival. The only true test is to examine the crown for development of new white roots. The crown is the area where the stem meets the roots and is usually located one inch below the soil surface. Most producers do their spring assessment around May 15 to 25 to allow enough time for the crop to regrow.
If the crop has good potential (little patchiness and good roots) then keep it. If it is patchy and thin you may want to discuss the situation with an agrologist or your crop insurance agent. An optimum plant stand is 20 to 30 plants per square foot. Keep in mind that winter wheat has the ability to aggressively tiller which usually compensates for lower crop densities. Research has indicated that winter wheat stands with as few as eight plants per square foot can still yield almost 50 bushels per acre.
Thin winter wheat stands often need a little help to reach their potential. An early nitrogen application will assist plants to tiller and fill in the stand. Also a thin stand is less competitive against weeds, particularly grassy weeds, so scouting and timely weed management is increasingly important.
The harsh climate on the Prairies and historical experiences with winterkill often magnify the focus on winterkill. But in reality, losing a winter wheat crop over the winter is pretty rare. A higher percentage of winter wheat is lost to winterkill in Kansas than in Western Canada.
According t o Paul Thoroughgood, regional agrologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada and partner in the Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action program, good management is important for all crops, but especially important for winter wheat.
“First-time winter wheat growers often manage the crop like a spring wheat crop. Due to winter wheat’s higher yield potential management decisions can really pay off,” says Thoroughgood. “Successful winter wheat growers plan ahead to consistently achieve successful results.”
Paul Thiel, VP Innovation and Public Affairs with Bayer CropScience believes winter wheat is an attractive choice for many growers across Western Canada, and says the Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action program showcases the important role winter wheat plays in sustainable agriculture.
“Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action combines investment in research, working with producers and engaging additional partners to increase winter wheat acreage across the Prairies, and highlights an agricultural practice that is profitable and wildlife friendly. Together with Ducks Unlimited, we’re hoping to help producers realize the benefits of including winter cereals in sustainable cropping rotations across the Prairies.”
To help you plan your next winter wheat crop, visit winter-cereals.ca,click on “Growing Winter Wheat,” then “Tools” to find the Weatherman-ager, an online planning resource that will help you plan spring seeding to ensure stubble availability for seeding in the fall.