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Ungerminated wheat crops

There are still solutions for farmers whose winter wheat didn’t 
hit the crucial three-leaf stage before winter hit

Many Western Cana dian winter wheat growers found themselves in a tough predicament last fall. Although a dry fall led to early harvest, creating perfect conditions for seeding winter wheat, many fields didn’t germinate.

If your winter wheat didn’t hit the crucial three-leaf stage before winter hit, there are still solutions.

Viability?

A lot of winter wheat acres went in the ground last fall. In Manitoba, farmers planted some 600,000 acres, which is very close to historic highs. “We’re happy to see that,” says Ken Gross, an agrologist with Ducks Unlimited. “Unfortunately, because of the dryness in the fields, there was a high variability in germination last fall. We saw everything from the four-leaf stage, which is what you want to see going into the winter, to just sprouted and just germinated. So, it was very patchy.”

Understandably, some concerned farmers were calling to ask whether or not their winter wheat crop was still viable. The easiest answer, says Gross, is yes.

“We’ve never seen a winter wheat field that didn’t vernalize or set seed,” he says. “All the plant has to do is to imbibe a little bit of water in the fall and it will vernalize. That’s really not a big concern.”

The next big concern is what they do this spring, he says. “The good news I tell producers is that even if the crop hasn’t germinated, and it’s just imbibed, it still can yield 100 per cent of normal. However, you have to manage that crop properly,” he says.

“The biggest thing a producer can do is fertilize early,” says Gross. “With winter wheat, that means apply your nitrogen before the four- to five-leaf stage to maximize your yield. The biggest mistake that producers make when they have a patchy looking crop is they want to see what it does before they put their nitrogen on. You can’t wait to do that kind of assessment. You just have to go out and fertilize it. If you wanted to produce a healthy stand, you have to give it a shot of nitrogen. That really helps to establish it, and that really helps to get it tillering.”

Luckily, even if you decide to write the crop off later, most of the nitrogen you applied will still be available for the subsequent crop.

Winter wheat growers in southern Saskatchewan where Ducks Unlimited agronomist Amanda Swanson works had their share of troubles this fall, too.

“In some areas, guys have really struggled with moisture in the springtime and being able to get their crop seeded,” says Swanson. “This year, it looks like the springtime is going to be very wet again. On top of that, this was probably one of the driest falls we’ve had.”

As a result, most of the winter wheat across southern Saskatchewan did not germinate. “Given the early snow cover that we had this year, crops should be fine, but guys need to have realistic expectations about delayed maturity and the crop being less competitive because it has a later start,” says Swanson.

Early weed removal, and disease scouting and management are equally important if you want to give the crop the best possible chance of reaching its potential, she says.

Ken Gross agrees. “Normally, producers growing winter wheat do not have to spray for wild oats, but if it’s a weaker stand, it might make it a little less competitive. I suggest scouting for wild oats and be prepared to spray to make sure that you preserve the yield potential of your crop.”

Choosing the right variety

Your crop’s true potential begins even before the seed meets the soil. Be sure to select the best variety for your area.

“Most producers in Manitoba are looking for a short variety since our black soils yield well,” says Gross. “Producers don’t want to deal with excessive straw. As a result, Falcon is the most common variety seeded in Manitoba, even though it is only rated fair for winter hardiness. Buteo has good winter hardiness and is often seeded instead of Falcon in areas prone to winter-kill issues. Newer varieties, like Flourish, are also short and have better winter hardiness, quality and disease resistance packages. As seed becomes available, Falcon will be replaced.”

Whereas Manitoba farmers prefer shorter varieties because they’re prone to lodging and falling over, Saskatchewan farmers don’t have those worries.

“In Saskatchewan, probably the most popular variety of winter wheat in the past several years has been Buteo,” says Swanson. “But there is a new variety coming out called Moats. A lot of guys are very excited about it and are excited to try some this fall. It’s the new and better Buteo. Its qualities and characteristics are improving on Buteo, so that will probably be the new standard for winter wheat varieties once it’s in full production.”

Got questions about winter wheat? Talk to your local agronomist. Winter wheat is profitable and, in fact, shows up as the strongest crop as far as net profit goes in Manitoba.

“Because it out-yields spring wheat by 40 per cent, guys who have grown it over past years have continued to grow it. It continues to be profitable,” says Gross. †

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