So far, so good sums up the condition of Manitoba’s winter wheat crop, although an extended cold snap could still damage it.
In the meantime, an advisory committee was to meet Monday to consider whether to allow farmers to fertilize their fields, including winter wheat, before April 10 when the seasonal fertilizer application prohibition is lifted. If it isn’t, individual farmers can apply to Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship for permission to apply early.
Manitoba government regulations prohibit farmers from applying fertilizer and manure to their fields between Nov. 10 and April 10. Soil is normally frozen then so applying fertilizer makes it susceptible to running off following rain or snowmelts, resulting in more nutrients polluting Lake Winnipeg.
But some years the soil freezes later or thaws earlier. To better reflect current soil conditions, last fall the province formed an advisory committee to consider variances to its dates. The committee has representatives from Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP), Manitoba Beef Producers, the Canadian Agri-Retailers Association, commercial manure applicators and Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development.
“This committee puts everyone on the same page,” said David Hay, Manitoba Conservation and Water Stewardship’s acting manager of the water quality management section.
“In the past everyone had their own ideas so this was an opportunity for us to establish a very, very timely system to be able to make those changes,” Hay said in an interview.
He said Manitoba Conservation has had “a handful” of farmers ask about fertilizing fields before April 10. Warm weather earlier this month and a lack of snow no doubt have farmers thinking about an early spring.
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Early N needed
Agronomists say winter wheat should be fertilized as early as possible.
“You absolutely want to get out in the field as soon as you can and get your nitrogen out there because winter wheat responds very quickly to nitrogen,” said Ken Gross, Ducks Unlimited Canada’s winter wheat agronomist. “It sets its yield very early so you want to be out there before it hits the five- or six-leaf stage. But we have lots of time before that happens. There’s really no rush at this point. I think most guys would be happy if they could get on their fields any time around April 10. If we could do that, that would be great compared to last year for sure.”
Hay said fertilizer for fall cereals, forages and pasture doesn’t have to go on until those crops are actively growing “and typically that’s not going to happen until such time as the soil has thawed.”
However, farmers say waiting brings the risk of wet weather and application delays. Overnight frosts keep the ground firm enough for farmers to travel as they broadcast their fertilizer, said KAP president Dan Mazier.
“You have no volatilization because the air is cool,” he said, adding the melting frost helps nitrogen dissolve into the soil.
Interest in fertilizing winter wheat early will depend on the weather and weather is also something the advisory committee considers along with soil temperatures and snow cover, Hay said.
“We really need all three conditions — soils that have thawed, no snow cover… as well a favourable long-term forecast.”
If the province were to allow early fertilizer applications this year, it would be general and not just for winter wheat or perennial crops such as forage, Hay said.
Call for variance
Farmers seeking an individual variance can contact Manitoba Conservation at [email protected] or 204-945-0002. A request must be provided in writing by a professional agrologist or certified crop adviser.
The Manitoba government has issued general variances before. Last fall the application period was extended to Nov. 12 because soils hadn’t frozen.
In 2012 the province allowed farmers to start fertilizing March 20, although variance didn’t include manure. That year Manitobans enjoyed a mild winter and early spring.
Manitoba only has about 200,000 acres of winter wheat this year because harvest went late in 2014. However, the winter wheat that was planted generally entered winter in good shape having reached the three- to four-leaf stage, Pam de Rocquigny, MAFRD’s cereal specialist, said in an interview last week.
“The early indications are that it looks promising, but it’s going to be the weather in the coming weeks that is really going to tell the story,” said de Rocquigny. “If we get a cold snap that could have an impact definitely on winter wheat.”
“Everything looks good,” he said, adding he saw regrowth in winter wheat clods he pulled from some fields recently.
“Generally you’ve got to see nighttime temperatures above 0 for winter wheat to start breaking dormancy and we really haven’t seen that.
“And those soil temperatures are quite cold and that’s going to take awhile to warm. I think we’re pretty good here. All I’d be really concerned about here is if we saw a real cold snap for a solid five or six days, then I would start to be a little worried, but it doesn’t look like we have anything like that in the forecast.”