Winter wheat a money-making crop

High potential yields, good prices and relatively low production costs 
have a growing number of farmers interested in winter wheat

It will be a month or so yet before Manitoba farmers get a peek at the winter wheat crop that lies beneath this winter’s heavily insulated snow blanket.

Manitoba farmers seeded an estimated 560,000 acres of winter wheat under less-than-ideal, dry conditions last fall, but at least it’s well insulated with lots of snow.

“I have a great deal of confidence it will be fine,” Dale Hicks, chair of Winter Cereals Canada told Winter Cereals Manitoba’s annual meeting here March 13.

Right now, the biggest concern is how long the water from spring run-off will sit on the fields.

But not even March snowstorms can dampen the optimism bubbling out of the March 13 Winter Cereals Manitoba (WCM) meeting. Hopes are high for a repeat of last year’s bin-busting yields.

Winter wheat yields averaged 66 bushels an acre in Manitoba last year, slightly above the 10-year average of 63 and 10 bushels an acre higher than in 2011.

Prices were also strong.

WCM chair Doug Martin sold 60 per cent of his winter wheat (CDC Falcon) last fall picked up in his East Selkirk yard for $8.50 a bushel. Thanks to an average yield of 92 bushels, he grossed $792 an acre.

The outlook for winter wheat remains good.

Dan Caron, a business development specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives told farmers attending St. Jean Farm Days in January that winter wheat could be the highest-grossing crop in 2013 at $489 an acre. That was based on an average yield of 71 bushels an acre and a price of $6.90 a bushel.

He estimated the average farmer would only have to harvest 28 bushels an acre to cover operating costs.

Caron also estimated winter wheat will produce the highest marginal return over operating costs at $295.71 an acre — 78 per cent more than canola.

It’s no wonder acreage is up threefold over 2011.

“The good news was there were quite a few first-time growers who had some success with the crop, which is very positive,” Martin said.

But falling canola acres in eastern Manitoba are a concern because canola is preferred to stubble to seed winter wheat into.

WCM, which focuses on research and market development, collected $214,088 in levies last year based on its point-of-sale checkoff of 50 cents a tonne, said executive director Jake Davidson. Farmers asked to get $457 back, which Davidson said is an indication the organization’s focus on improving the crop is supported.

WCM now has 1,800 members and $380,000 in the bank.

Winter Cereals Canada (WCC), which combines Winter Cereals Saskatchewan and Winter Cereals Manitoba, has 16,000 members.

“We’re no longer a tiny, little organization that’s struggling,” said WCC chair Dale Hicks, who farms at Outlook, Sask. “We actually have the means to take on some larger projects.”

WCC has applied for more research funding through the New Developing Innovative Agri-Products (DIAP) program to support more research, Davidson said.

WCC also wants to work with the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) to promote winter wheat exports.

With the demise of the Canadian Wheat Board the WCC offered to sponsor grain company officials to attend an all-expenses-paid course to explain different winter wheats and their market potential, Davidson said. One company said if it wanted to learn about winter wheat it would go to Kansas State University, while the rest declined the offer.

“When they start shipping significant quantities overseas to much of these more picky markets, we believe there is potential for a disaster, because that knowledge that was at the wheat board has been disseminated now,” Davidson said.

Last fall a lot of western winter wheat was exported to Texas to feed livestock in wake of the drought that affected much of the U.S.

Some Mexican buyers were disappointed so much of Western Canada’s winter wheat ended up “in the belly of a cow,” said Jim Smolik, assistant chief commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission. Canada Western Red Winter wheat is valued for producing wheat flour and performing well for steam buns and noodles.

Under the wheat board, usually winter wheat didn’t move from farms until January, Davidson said.

“Companies like Paterson and Richardson, that were not active under the wheat board era, went nuts going after the winter wheat this (crop) year,” he said.

The U.S. drought might have had something to do with the strong early demand, he added.

Martin also said WCM has no plans to join Manitoba’s new cereals association being set up to collect a checkoff on wheat and barley to fund research and promote sales. Winter wheat might get less attention if it was part of a cereals group, he said.

Winter Cereals Manitoba is well funded and lean, Martin said. It operates with one employee and directors don’t receive per diems.

“We do it because it’s a great crop to grow and it’s a relatively new crop on the Prairies and we’ve got a lot to learn about it.”

About the author

Reporter

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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