McMillan: Prairie winter wheat harvest begins

Winter wheat harvest has begun in the eastern Prairies: Progress ranges from 25 to 30 per cent complete in eastern Manitoba, while in western Manitoba, and across Saskatchewan, the crop is ripening and will soon be ready for harvest.

Following a late start to spring and a cool summer, winter cereal maturity was delayed. Maturity delays do not put the crop at risk of frost as in most Canadian Prairie crops, but they do reduce the harvest window and create added pressure during harvest time.

“Many farmers use winter wheat as a fast-off-the-combine, early-delivered cashflow crop,” said Jake Davidson of Winter Cereals Canada at Minnedosa, Man.

This year, however, winter and spring cereals may be ripening within days of each other, rather than a few weeks apart.

The slow harvest pace is a stark contrast to last year. At the same time in 2012, winter wheat harvest completion was around 50 per cent in Saskatchewan and 90 per cent in Manitoba.

“Most farmers are estimating that all their crops, including winter cereals, are one to two weeks behind normal” said Daphne Cruise of Saskatchewan’s provincial Agriculture Knowledge Centre at Moose Jaw.

Early reports found crop yields ranging from 60 bushels per acre to the high 80s in central Manitoba. In eastern Manitoba, initial yields are mostly in the 80 bu./ac. range with average quality.

Over the past five years winter wheat yields in Manitoba averaged 62.5 bu./ac. and yields are expected to be above average this year.

Although the wet year increased disease pressure for some crops, Davidson said this has not been the case with winter wheat.

“We had lots of humidity this year, but with the cool temperatures I don’t think fusarium pressure was as high” said Davidson.

No quality concerns have been raised to date, but generally cool moist conditions lead to lower protein content, so some varieties may have difficulty reaching the minimum specifications for milling wheat.

One of the greatest impacts of the cool season may not be seen until 2014. Winter wheat is normally seeded after canola is harvested. With the majority of canola crops still flowering, it’s increasingly unlikely harvest will be completed in sufficient time to allow all of the intended acres to be sown.

— Stuart McMillan writes from Winnipeg on weather and agronomic issues affecting Prairie farmers.

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