Fall rye falling flat

Fall rye growers celebrated their emergence rates earlier this spring, but now a number of them say they are fighting ‘floppy rye syndrome’

Provincial cereal experts say the weather may be to blame for rooting problems producers are now seeing in fall rye.

Initial reports this spring suggested that winter cereals were off to a good start, thanks to a comparatively mild winter. In April, agronomist Ken Gross from the Western Winter Wheat Initiative said crops last fall had good growing conditions prior to the freeze, and that he was expecting high survival rates this spring. Those expectations matched reports from the field, with producers reporting good emergence.

Since then, however, some growers have said plants are not developing the fibrous nodal roots that normally help stabilize the plant, causing those plants to easily tip over.

“I thought that crop was out of the woods. I thought we were done with it,” provincial crop nutrition specialist John Heard said, “but it seems we’ve got people reporting some tougher-looking stands right now.”

Why it matters: All indications were in the green when it came to fall rye earlier this year, although some producers now say that they’re having root development issues.

Fall rye plots at Carman’s Crop Diagnostic School are showing signs of the problem, both Heard and provincial cereals specialist Anne Kirk have reported.

Rye plants in some areas of agro-Manitoba are not developing the nodal roots needed to help keep them firmly planted in the soil.
photo: Anne Kirk

“We had some crops at the diagnostic school that really look like they have no roots,” Kirk said. “You pull them out of the ground and there’s little skinny seminal roots, but really not a lot of those fibrous nodal roots that develop from the first node on the plant.”

Kirk says she has also fielded calls from producers who have reported the problem.

Kirk noted that, along with a lack of fibrous nodal roots, some of those fields also display much thicker crown roots than she would normally expect, appearing much like the brace roots seen in corn.

Fall issues

Heard suggested that fall seeding conditions, plus a lack of rainfall early this spring may be to blame for the problem.

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Producers will well remember the challenges last fall with rainfalls in September and early snow forcing farmers to leave hundreds of thousands of acres unharvested — some of which producers were still struggling to harvest as of the third week of May, the province reported last week.

Those same wet conditions may have left a less than ideal seedbed for winter cereals, Heard noted. The province’s research plots went into wet soil, he noted, causing some smearing of the side walls during planting.

“Those side walls are fairly compact,” he said. “It’s worse in wheel tracks and we’re getting very poor nodal root development. Enough so that the original roots, we’re getting some growth deeper, but there’s no support. Some of these plants that are getting to the stem elongation stage are simply flopping over.”

Side wall ‘smearing’ is a form of soil compaction from seeding into less than ideal conditions.
photo: Iowa State University

The phenomenon is similar to what is sometimes seen in corn, he noted.

In contrast, little rain has fallen this spring, leaving topsoil to dry and crust, even if the cold and delayed spring also kept many producers out of the field in parts of the province due to mud.

Kirk echoed Heard’s hypothesis.

Side wall smearing may have kept roots from developing properly this spring, she agreed. Meanwhile, she noted, areas that were dry may have seen plants die back.

Both Heard and Kirk say they have investigated, and likely ruled out, a problem with herbicide.

Doug Martin, chair of Winter Cereals Manitoba, says he has not seen major issues with his own fall rye fields near Selkirk.

He has, however, noted stress on his winter wheat, which was seeded in wet conditions about a week later than his fall rye last year.

“Then we got a pile more rain and the headlands were compacted and there was more water sitting there and it really showed up this year, anywhere there was excess moisture last fall,” he said.

His area has seen little precipitation this spring, he noted. According to Environment and Climate Change Canada, less than 30 millimetres of rain fell between April 1 and May 23 in the Winnipeg area.

“With the cold weather, it’s just sitting there not doing a whole lot,” he said of his winter cereals, although he noted that this stands have been greening with recent rainfall and warmer temperatures.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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