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Best Stubbles For Winter Wheat

CANOLA RULES

Henry Raupers grows two crops: winter wheat and canola. “Winter wheat has many advantages over spring wheat,” he says. “It has a wider market window, with milling, feed and ethanol options, and wider windows for seeding and harvest.”

The farmer from Newdale, Man., tested winter wheat in various stubbles, including peas, barley and spring wheat, over an eight-year period and has settled on canola as the runaway favourite.

It’s all about the stubble. The perfect canola stubble is fairly long and with a density of about 14 to 15 plants per square foot — before harvest and seeding. He figures he’ll lose about half of the stalks to harvest and direct seeding, but that still leaves a good count for snow trap.

“I’ve had my most successful winter wheat crops in Liberty Link canola stubble,” he says. “The stubble is stronger and doesn’t get ripped out as easily.”

He seeds his canola at five to 5.5 pounds per acre — which is one to two pounds more than necessary, he says — just so he gets a good stubble stand for his winter wheat. “With the higher seeding rate, canola plants don’t branch out as much and I get lots of stalks,” he says. “The plants also emerge faster, ripen faster and mature three to five days earlier.” That means he can seed his winter wheat earlier.

When he did seed winter wheat into peas, he found that the stubble that was there got tangled up in his drill and ripped out. If your winter wheat has no stubble to protect it and catch snow, it might work some years, but it’s risker, he says. As for barley and wheat stubble, he just didn’t get the results he needed. “The quality and yield just weren’t there,” he says. “I’ve completely given up on peas, barley and hard red spring.”

LIKES FALCON

Raupers prefers CDC Falcon winter wheat “at the moment,” he says. The variety is shorter so it can withstand higher rates of nitrogen.

Raupers puts 60 pounds of nitrogen at the time of seeding — in a mid-row band. “I think the wheat is thankful for that higher rate,” he says. “The crop is strong and healthy heading into winter.” And with lower rainfall in his area in the fall, any unused nitrogen is still there in the spring. This reserve gives him a wider window to make his second application. He can go earlier if he needs to promote more tillers or later if the crop starts off the spring in good shape.

His target plant stand is 550 main heads per square metre.

His final point is a harvest tip: Have a good chaff spreader on your combine. When your combine spreads the canola chaff evenly and without clumps, you don’t need to go out with a harrowbar. Harrows destroy the precious stubble.

With the long cold winter and cool spring, Raupers’ winter wheat “took forever” to perk up this spring. “Most is OK now,” he said July 7. “The weaker stand is where the chaff was not spread evenly enough so the seeding depth was off.”

“I’m still trying to work these problems out.”

Winter wheat yields best when planted into canola stubble. The disease risk is lowest following canola, and canola stubble provides good snow trap. That improves winter survival. But if your canola crop is late this year, you need options so you can get your winter wheat seeded before mid September.

A three-year study by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) scientists shows that barley cut for silage is the second best stubble for winter wheat, followed by barley or oats cut for grain.

AAFC ran the trials at four sites: Lacombe, Alta., Melfort and Indian Head in Saskatchewan, and Brandon, Man. The study compared six stubbles: canola, barley cut for silage, barley for grain, oats, peas and spring wheat.

Barley and peas are the most attractive options because they usually come off early, says Byron Irvine, AAFC research scientist based in Brandon. Of the two, barley is the safer bet.

Cutting barley for silage is more common in Alberta, and the study showed this to be a good option. Timing may have been a factor — you can seed winter wheat early in a crop cut for silage — but Irvine can’t say for sure why results were so favourable. The stubble is usually cut short, which doesn’t trap a lot of snow, but does let more light through. “Maybe it was a temperature and light scenario,” Irvine says. It could also be that with the straw removed as silage, the nitrogen fertilizer isn’t bound up in the trash cover. More research is needed, but whatever the reason, winter wheat on barley silage does show good results. The one challenge, Irvine says, could be volunteer barley control.

BARLEY SILAGE 10% BETTER THAN BARLEY GRAIN

After barley cut for silage, the next best stubble was barley or oats — results were about the same — cut for grain. But the AAFC study showed a wide gulf between these options. The yield advantage for barley silage over barley or oats harvested for grain was 10 per cent, Irvine says. If winter wheat on barley cut for silage yielded 80 bushels per acre, for example, it yielded 72 bushels on barley cut for grain.

PEAS CAN WORK

Peas are riskier because the crop leaves almost no stubble to trap snow. In two of the 12 site years, planting winter wheat on pea stubble was a “disaster,” Irvine says. But in fairness, one of those site years — Melfort 2004 — was a disaster for all winter wheat trials, regardless of stubble.

In the other 10 site years, results on peas were as good as results on canola, Irvine says. So peas are showing promise as a rotational option for winter wheat, particularly in the Black Soil Zone where snowfall is typically higher.

“Even so, I’m not a big fan of taking the risk of seeding winter wheat on pea stubble and having to replant,” Irvine says. “If crop insurance does not cover winterkill, I’m not sure the risk is worth taking.”

Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation is talking with Winter Cereals Canada about how to adjust winter wheat coverage to reflect current best practices, but there have been no changes as of yet. The current policy states that a grower can get winterkill coverage as long as the field has six inches of standing stubble after seeding. It doesn’t stipulate what kind of stubble, but after harvest and seeding, you likely won’t have much pea stubble left to qualify for insurance.

As for wheat on wheat, that showed the worst results. “We expected this to be garbage, but in science you can’t pre-judge the results,” Irvine says. “So we did the trials and wheat on wheat showed terrible yields everywhere.” The major problem with wheat on wheat is root disease.

Jay Whetter is the editor of Grainews.

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