Why waste three months of sunlight on bare ground when you could grow some profit?
That is the notion a number of western Canadian producers have begun to experiment with, including Forrest-area producer Ryan Boyd, who says he’s seen several benefits from adding winter wheat into his rotation.
“Looking at dollars and cents I think it has a lot of potential, and I definitely like having winter wheat in the ground to give us some options in the spring,” Boyd said at a June 30 Ducks Unlimited (DU) field tour at his farm.
Organizer Michael Thiele, DU grazing clubs co-ordinator, said the goal was to give other local producers a first-hand look at how Boyd has integrated winter wheat into his rotation.
“Ryan probably won’t have a day here where there isn’t something green growing. From the first growing day in the spring, to freeze-up in the fall, and that has some enormous benefits in terms of yield, as well as for the environment,” Thiele said.
DU has been involved in the promotion of winter wheat for several years and sees numerous benefits of having it growing in western Manitoba.
“Ducks has been very active in supporting research into new varieties. I don’t think that is really well known but it is something they have been very committed to and put a lot of funding into,” Thiele said.
DU has recently partnered with Bayer CropScience, the Mosaic Company Foundation and Richardson International to form the Western Winter Wheat Initiative (WWWI) with the goal of building awareness and credibility for winter wheat as a highly productive crop option for western Canadian farmers.
“You may wonder why they would be interested in winter wheat. But, if you think of winter wheat versus spring wheat, it is better for duck habitat as there is no disturbance in the spring,” Thiele said.
In recent years winter wheat has been gaining popularity among Prairie producers as some find it to be an excellent agronomic and time management addition into their rotations.
“We got into the winter wheat because we thought it would add to the crop rotation and looked liked the financial rewards were there. It really does add some good diversity to our cropping rotations,” Boyd said.
According to the WWWI, winter wheat varieties have had a 21 per cent higher yield than Canadian Western Red Spring wheat over the past three years in the Prairie provinces.
Producers have also found it to be a solution to moisture issues as they have been able to avoid late-seeding issues in years with wet springs.
“If I plant the winter wheat, at least I have something in the field growing. That in itself made it a lower-risk crop with the alternative being nothing,” Boyd said.
This season, Boyd is growing two fields of winter wheat and as his fields progress, it is clear to see he likes to experiment with new ideas in crop production.
His first field was sown with hairy vetch last fall and in the spring Boyd added peas and crimson clover.
“We seeded winter wheat on spring wheat from last year with the hairy vetch. We seeded the winter wheat at 150 pounds but we did have some issues with hair-pinning,” Boyd said.
He seeded the wheat and hairy vetch last September and 60 pounds of peas and added two pounds of crimson clover on April 27.
Boyd intends to combine the 80-acre field, which he has applied 25 pounds of phosphorus, 30 to 35 pounds of nitrogen, and five pounds of sulphur.
“It is starting to take shape. It didn’t look like much all spring, but now the peas have filled in the cracks and in the past week they have really started to branch out and fill in.”
Thiele says there are some real benefits to having more than one plant growing in a field at a time.
“The more diversity you have, the more resiliencies you have in that system. If it is hot or dry or wet or cold, something will do better than something else. When you are locked into a system with one plant and the conditions are not perfect, you will obviously have problems,” Thiele said.
Thiele also suggests red clover as another viable option to mix, noting that it is commonly used in Ontario with winter wheat.
Boyd’s second field consisted of winter wheat that was sown with a hay mix.
“I actually underseeded this to hay thinking we would get the hay established. We were planning to hay it for two years and that would clean up the wild oats and the cleaver we’d been seeing,” Boyd said.
He seeded the wheat in the first week of September at 150 pounds per acre, and has applied 120 pounds of nitrogen, 30 of phosphorus and five of sulphur but has not used any herbicide.
“Other reasons winter wheat works for us is because it provides a herbicide rotation. Most years we are not spraying for wild oats in our winter wheat crop so that is a big benefit in terms of putting off the resistance that might be coming down the road.”
Boyd says the crop’s earlier maturity also helps avoid the potential for grade losses due to early frost.
Winterkill not a big concern
One of the biggest concerns for producers when contemplating introducing winter wheat is the risk of winterkill but Ken Gross, winter wheat expert and agrologist with DU, says Manitoba producers shouldn’t be overly concerned about this.
“I have only seen one winter in Manitoba that we have had winterkill,” Gross said. “Most times what you see is that in the spring it will warm up, melt the snow, all that gets into the low spots, freezes and then you will see some kill in those low spots. That circumstance is much more common in Manitoba than true winterkill.”
For those who may be thinking about integrating winter wheat, Thiele recommends visiting the WWWI website.
“What we are doing is putting all of the agronomic information on the website for producers to see. You can go in there and see what other producers in the area are doing for things like fertility, rates of nitrogen, fungicides, seed treatment, seeding date, what they seeded into, what they did in the fall, what they did in the spring,” Thiele said.
The website also offers up a production manual, survival model, calendar, seeding rate calculator, soil temperature guides, management timelines and a bushel/tonne converter.
“All these things are very important and we have worked to gather all that information on there to answer some common questions,” Thiele said. “It is a good place to start. DU staff are also there to help you out and same with the other partners in the initiative.”
The WWWI website can be found at, www.growwinterwheat.ca.