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Hit The Winter Wheat Window

(Dr. Brian Fowler 2002) OPTIMAL DATE FOR WINTER WHEAT SEEDING LOCATION DATE

1. Lethbridge, Alta.

2. Maple Creek/Estevan, Sask.

3. Kindersley/Swift Current, Sask.

4. North Battleford/Saskatoon/ Wynyard/Yorkton, Sask. September 9

September 6 September 3

August 30

Seed at the right time. Have good stubble cover. Those are two key elements to winter wheat success.

Long-time growers say don’t worry as much about having adequate moisture at seeding. Winter wheat should be shallow seeded, so even three tenths of an inch of moisture after seeding should get the crop growing. And because you are seeding in late August or early September, depending on where you farm, typically you are heading into cooler, moister fall conditions which should support the crop.

While there are no absolutes, try to seed into standing stubble that has potential to trap at least four inches of snow cover and ideally eight inches of snow to protect the crop over winter.

Garth Butcher, who farms near Birtle in west central Manitoba, grows about 500 acres of winter wheat. He first grew the crop in the 1980s and has kept it in rotation continuously since 1995.

“One of the main reasons I started growing it again in mid-90s is because I was concerned about wild oat resistant weeds,” says Butcher. “Winter wheat can compete very well with wild oats, so you may not need to spray.”

Butcher has grown both Falcon and CDC Buteo winter wheat. He seeds it shallow and applies recommended fertility for the target yield. With the recommended seeding dates of between September 1 to September 15 for northern Manitoba and September 1 to September 21 for southern Manitoba, he says seeding the crop often falls in the middle of harvest.

“It’s not bad. You just learn to manage around it,” he says. “You need to have your seeding equipment ready to go, and depending on the year, you may have to hire an extra person to do the seeding, but it doesn’t take long.”

Ideally winter wheat works well to be direct seeding into standing canola stubble. The past two years, he has seeded into pea stubble because the pulse crop was harvested early. “You want the stubble cover to trap snow and protect the crop, and pea stubble usually doesn’t hold as much snow as canola,” he says. “Pea stubble isn’t the best but it has worked well for us.”

Winter wheat can also be seeded into barley stubble, but it may take a little more management to control volunteers. Butcher says in areas like eastern Manitoba where farmers usually expect good snow cover on fields over winter, the type or amount of stubble may not be as much of an issue.

In southern Alberta, Alex Russell who farms just south of Lethbridge, agrees decent stubble is important for trapping snow and also preventing crop damage from strong wind.

“Direct seeding into a standing canola stubble is probably the best,” says Russell who grows about 350 acres of winter wheat. “But a lot depends on the year and rotation, too. I have seeded winter wheat on durum stubble and also on pea stubble and it has worked well. In southern Alberta, our winters can be milder than in other parts of the Prairies, so insulation is not always as critical. I have seen our winter wheat fields blown clear of snow and the crop still comes through.”

He has grown an older variety, AC Readymade, but is trying the new AC Radiant with resistance to wheat curl mite.

Russell applies about the same fertility to winter wheat as he does to durum, and estimates yields are about 20 percent higher than spring wheat. He aims to have the crop seeded by early September. Alberta Agricutlure recommends the crop can be successfully seeded in Southern Alberta up to mid-September. The table, prepared by winter wheat breeder Brian Fowler, with the Crop Development Centre in Saskatoon, shows suggested seeding dates for various parts of Saskatchewan and Alberta.

DU RECOMMENDS HIGHER N

Mark Akins, a conservation program specialist with Ducks Unlimited in southern Saskatchewan, also emphasizes in most parts of Western Canada it is important to direct seed winter wheat into good standing stubble.

“If I put them in order of preference, I would recommend seeding into canola stubble first,” says Akins, who is also a farmer. “It is important to trap some snow cover to protect the crop. After canola, I would recommend mustard stubble, then flax if the crop is taken off early, then barley or oat stubble, and probably as a last option pea stubble.”

Akins advises producers interested in winter wheat to gear their rotation to get the spring seeded crop off early and seed winter wheat into standing stubble within the late August to early September time frame, depending where they live.

He also recommends higher fertility to match winter wheat’s yield potential. “Winter wheats are developed from good high yielding genetics, and you are making more efficient use of early spring moisture, so you don’t want the limiting factor to be a shortage of nitrogen,” Akins says. “You can apply your nitrogen in the fall or spring, or apply a split application if you prefer, but match your nitrogen input to your yield goal.”

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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