The Worst Winter In Years Was Hard On Winter Wheat Too

“If (soybeans) can live off the nitrogen in the soil they will because it does cost the plant energy to make its own nodules.”

– BRUCE BROLLEY

Provincial officials have two pieces of advice if you are cons ider ing tearing up and seeding something else into that sad-looking winter wheat field this spring.

First, have it assessed by the Mani toba Agr icul tural Services Corporation if you plan to collect crop insurance. Secondly, strike soybeans off your list of reseeding options if you have already fertilized the field.

The Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation’s insurance division has had several hundred claims so far and started adjusting winter wheat fields in southern Manitoba May 13, Craig Thomson, vice-president of insurance operations said in an interview. Adjusting in the rest of the province starts May 19.

Farmers who suspect their winter wheat crops aren’t worth keeping must get them inspected before tearing them up to qualify for full insurance coverage.

However, farmers shouldn’t reseed soybeans into ripped-up winter wheat fields that had been heavily fertilized, warns Bruce Brolley, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiative’s (MAFRI) business development specialist for pulses.

“The soybean bacteria may not nodulate the soybean plant,” Brolley said. “That 80 pounds (of nitrogen that might have been applied earlier this spring) is not enough to carry the crop through maturity and if you don’t get (nitrogen) nodules being formed then you’re hooped.”

The farmer could apply more nitrogen to help the soybean crop produce a high yield but that would be uneconomic, Brolley said.

A field with 60 pounds of nitrogen in the top two feet should not be seeded to soybeans, especially if it has never been seeded to soybeans before, Brolley said. He noted soybeans are quick to take a free ride, even if it is to their detriment. “If they can live off the nitrogen in the soil they will because it does cost the plant energy to make its own nodules.”

Spring wheat isn’t the best option either if the field has been heavily fertilized, said John McGregor, MAFRI’s farm production adviser based in Steinbach.

“If a guy has put down the level of fertility needed for winter wheat, spring wheat could lodge,” he said. “We’re fertilizing winter wheat for an 80-bushel crop and your spring wheat you fertilize for a 40-or 45-bushel crop, so you’ve got twice the nutrient on there.”

Corn, a high user of nitrogen, might be an option for some farmers, he added.

Some will also reseed to canola, even though it’s not recommended because of the increased disease risk. In such cases a fungicide application will be mandatory.

Last year winter wheat damage was patchy, but this year it seems more widespread, McGregor said. “From what I’m seeing right now the plants that aren’t going to make it are just mush,” he said.

“Unlike last year where it was field edges that were dying out this year it’s patches all over the field, which makes it extremely difficult to manage. If the percentage of patches are high enough you should probably consider reseeding the field.”

But first, call your crop insurance agent. Winter wheat growers with crop insurance may qualify for a 25 per cent reseeding claim, plus another 50 per cent of their coverage under Stage 1 of their contract, Thomson said.

Winter wheat growers are anxious for an appraisal given each day seeding is delayed reduces yield potential.

The May 13 date to start assessing winter wheat claims applies to the following crop insurance offices: St. Pierre, Beausejour, Altona, Carman, Sanford, Stonewall, Portage la Prairie, Somerset, Glenboro, Souris, Deloraine and Virden.

Assessing will start in the rest of the province May 19. [email protected]

About the author

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Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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