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Getting A Head Start

If you’re thinking about getting a head start on 2011 by sowing winter wheat into some of those empty fields next month, now would be a good time to pick up some flax seed.

Provincial agronomists say it’s one of the best options available to farmers looking to artificially create that all-important snow-trapping stubble needed for winter wheat crops to survive a typical Prairie winter.

With so many drowned crops and unseeded acres, winter wheat acres are expected to soar this fall. But because many of the fields being planted won’t have the previous crop’s stubble, farmers won’t be eligible for full crop insurance coverage unless they find a way to nurse it through the winter.

While many spring crops can be used to shelter it, including Polish canola, barley, oats and spring wheat, flax has certain advantages such as a rigid stalk.


When vegetative crops are killed with glyphosate they are likely to fall over and decompose, contributing to seeding problems.

Cereals are the least preferred. Most have similar root rot and seedling blight diseases as winter wheat.

Wheat streak mosaic is a virus spread by the wheat curl mite. There are no pesticides to control either so it’s critical to kill any cereal crop – the “green bridge” – before winter wheat emerges in the same field.

Cereals or millet can be seeded for greenfeed, to dry out soils and trap snow. But it’s important to have a market for the greenfeed.

When seeding flax to trap snow MAFRI recommends cutting the normal seeding rate in half to around 25 pounds an acre.

Ideally, at least four inches of snow will be trapped.

Alvin Iverson, manager of the University of Manitoba’s Ian N. Morrison Research Farm, Carman & Region Facility, routinely plants flax to protect the winter wheat-breeding plots there. When the flax is a foot and a half high, Iverson kills it with Reglone

“You’re looking for something that’s going to stand erect and be there to trap snow,” he said. “You don’t want something that’s going to fall over and smother the crop.”

Flax intended to trap snow in winter wheat should be planted by mid-July, according to a bulletin prepared by Pam de Rocquigny, provincial cereals specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI).

“In general it takes five to six weeks of plant growth to produce stubble,” de Rocquigny says. “With this stubble production option, seed supply and price can influence decisions.”


Winter Cereals Canada says when stubble is shorter it can still be effective so long as it’s thicker. So where the stubble is only four inches high, there needs to be 20 “sticks” per square foot.

When the stubble is 12 inches there only needs to be six per square foot.

Full crop insurance coverage on winter wheat winter survival applies only when the winter wheat is planted into “eligible stubble,” which is defined as being from a crop harvested the same year the winter wheat is seeded, with that stubble

“In general it takes

five to six weeks of plant growth to

produce stubble.”


not having been disturbed by cultivation.

Eligible stubble crops include tame hay, tall fescue seed, canola, rapeseed, barley, wheat, oats, mixed grain, triticale, flax, mustard, fall rye, canaryseed, ryegrass seed, timothy seed, alfalfa seed, hemp, sunflowers, corn, borage, millet, corriander, sorghum, sudan grass, and buckwheat.

If winter wheat is not seeded into eligible stubble and winterkills, MASC coverage is limited to a 25 per cent reseeding benefit.

Winter wheat that survives winter is eligible for full coverage no matter the stubble conditions when seeded.

Other recommendations include:

Seeding winter wheat in late August to produce a well-established plant with at least three leaves and tillers with a fully developed crown. Seeding too early – mid-August increases the chance of winterkill.

Seed placing a substantial rate of phosphorus (at least 30 pounds of P2O5 an acre) will increase winter hardiness.

Increase seeding rates to two bushels an acre to get at least 25 plants established per square foot. [email protected]

About the author


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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