McMillan: Southern Alta. winter wheat prevails

Winter wheat crops are reported thriving across Alberta, contrasting multiple reports of challenges in the eastern Prairies.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives reported Monday that reseeding of winter wheat is occurring throughout the province due to poor plant stands. The Saskatchewan government reported Thursday that some winter wheat fields in that province’s southeast are being reseeded due to high levels of winterkill.

However, according to Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development at Stettler, “We have not heard any reports of winter wheat being ripped up. There are no real issues at the moment.”

Seeding conditions in Alberta were slightly better with a few showers, compared to the entirely dry weather further east. The main difference was that southern Alberta received moderate rain in early October, allowing crops sufficient moisture for emergence and establishment. The majority of Alberta’s winter wheat is grown in the south.

Conditions remained good over the winter and spring. “We had really good snow cover, so we had good germination in the spring,” Brook said.

“Cautiously optimistic”

Favourable weather has continued for southern Alberta’s growing areas. Lukas Matejovsky, an AARD crop statistician in Edmonton, said “recent rainy weather was very helpful for southern and central regions that were becoming dry.” He had not heard of any reports of problems with winter cereal crops, he added.

In the eastern Prairies, the deep snow pack, combined with the cool weather in March and April, slowed spring development of winter wheat.

Concerns have also been raised that the slow growing winter cereals may be heading later in the season, increasing the risk of fusarium.

“Albertan winter wheat may be a little delayed, but not significantly,” Brook said. “At the moment the situation is cautiously optimistic.”

While winter wheat crops are generally in excellent condition, the acreage sown in Alberta is far less than in the east. Statistics Canada on April 24 estimated the amount of winter wheat acres seeded in the fall of 2012 that remained after winterkill at 110,000 in Alberta, 370,000 in Saskatchewan and 595,000 in Manitoba.

The 10 per cent of Prairie winter wheat sown in Alberta last fall was below the recent average of 20 per cent.

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

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