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Planting your winter wheat at the right time is crucial to its success. It’s important to have the right amount of growth before the frost/snow hits in the fall, so you need to ensure the seed is in the ground early enough. But it’s also important not to seed too early, as the plant could have too much growth before winter hits, as well.
The ideal stage for winter wheat before frost or snow cover hits is the three-leaf stage, which means it will have a well-developed crown. If the plant hasn’t developed a crown yet, it may not be able to regrow in the spring, and if the plant has grown too many leaves, it is at risk of winter injury or snow mould.
Different areas of Western Canada have different weather patterns and lengths of season, so it is important to select the right seeding window for your area.
Another factor in selecting your optimal seeding date is crop insurance cut-offs, which also vary by area. Be sure to check with your insurance provider abut your winter wheat seeding window cut-offs before seeding.
Refer to the image below to find the right seeding window for your area. (This graphic does not include information from each area on insurance cut-offs.)
By: Paul Thoroughgood P.Ag
Many new and non-winter wheat growers often express frustration and sometimes even go as far as giving up the benefits of growing winter wheat due to marketing issues. In my experience as a long-time winter wheat grower, the benefits of having winter wheat in my rotation not only make it worth spending a little more time on marketing, but also can provide a substantial return on time invested.
Winter wheat growers are often discouraged when they see milling CWRW prices at or below feed prices, limited delivery opportunities, and CWRS prices higher than milling CWRW. I share in some of this frustration, particularly when millers and the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI) regularly tell us that CWRW has many positive characteristics making it a much higher-value product than what the market reflects. Despite a market that doesn’t currently recognize all the positive attributes of winter wheat, there are still opportunities to have winter wheat not only compete with other cereal alternatives, but in many instances, be your most profitable cereal.
The following are examples from my local marketplace that I hope illustrate how looking at the glass “half full” can capitalize on the economic benefits of winter wheat:
I hope these examples illustrate that there is more than one way to extract the economic benefits associated with winter wheat. Many winter wheat growers intentionally target quick movement off their farm for all or part of their marketing plan. For the growers I know who employ this strategy, they are happy to see winter wheat break even with their other cereals, and any premium is a bonus. Growers who are able to hold the crop and seek market premiums can be rewarded well when price spikes occur for winter wheat versus other classes of wheat.
If your winter wheat marketing glass is half empty, I encourage you to take a deeper look. While the market may not be the one you targeted when you seeded the crop, or maybe it’s a little further away than the local elevator, there may be markets you have missed or overlooked in the past. Remember price per bushel/tonne isn’t nearly as important as net return per acre. My rule of thumb is that if my winter wheat price is within 20 to 25 per cent of my alternate cereal price then I am confident the worst I will do is break even with the alternative.
I am hopeful that in the near future winter wheat becomes a more mainstream class that is more widely accepted in the industry. CWRW competes well with U.S. HRW, which is the largest class of wheat grown in the world. To date, there has been very little focus and effort put into developing markets for CWRW. I would like to commend Winter Cereals Manitoba, Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission and Alberta Wheat Commission for investing in market development at CIGI. The more we are able to demonstrate the value of winter wheat the better chance there is that our customers will demand it.
As harvest and fall seeding approaches, I encourage those of you who aren’t currently growing winter wheat to look again. In the past few years winter wheat has consistently been one of the top-net income-earning cereals on the Prairies. While marketing may require a little more creativity than the major classes, the yield advantage combined with an earlier harvest window provides many opportunities.
Weed control in winter wheat is aided by the crop’s fall-growth habit, vigorous spring growth, and early maturity. This benefit not only is of value in the year winter wheat is grown but is also an important tool for maximizing the effectiveness of other crop protection products in other crop years. For example, avoiding a graminicide during the winter wheat year can help avoid or manage the development of herbicide resistance.
By incorporating winter wheat and these weed management practices into your rotation, you can be certain that not only your winter wheat, but also all subsequent crops in your rotation will reap the rewards of having lower weed pressure.
In situations where winter wheat is less competitive, such as late seeding in fall or winter injury, more intensive wheat management may be needed to achieve maximum yields.
Pre-Seeding Weed Control
Winter wheat is no different than other crops in its need to have a competition-free establishment period. Controlling weeds prior to seeding is a particularly effective time for that second step in control of biennial, perennial, and winter annual weeds, especially downy brome. Glyphosate products provide the most effective control in this window for weed control.
Pre-seeding herbicide applications also control early emerging volunteer plants. Control of volunteer seedling is particularly important when seeding into wheat stubble. Pre-seed glyphosate one to two weeks prior to seeding will break the “green bridge,” preventing wheat streak mosaic virus from carrying over to the winter wheat crop. Some growers tank mix residual broadleaf chemistry with their glyphosate to extend the weed control into winter wheat emergence and establishment. Early emerging weeds are generally some of the most competitive weeds a crop has to face. Removing early weed competition helps develop a well-established winter wheat crop, which will have a better ability to survive the winter.
Fall In-Crop Weed Control
Controlling winter annual weeds is the next important step in successful winter wheat production. Common winter annual weeds include stinkweed, shepherd’s purse, and flixweed. Due to their habit of emerging in the fall and resuming growth early in the spring, winter annuals can be very competitive and difficult to control in the spring. This makes fall control a very practical and cost effective approach to controlling winter annuals if sufficient densities are present. Herbicide applications should target actively growing plants that are able to metabolize the product quickly. According to Brian Beres of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, “Fall 2,4-D, when used in the form and rate specified above, is very effective in the control of winter annuals, and I prefer it to any spring phenoxy applications as it’s very hard to apply in spring before the plant stage is too advanced.”
Spring In-Crop Weed Control
Considerations for spring in-crop weed control in winter wheat are generally very similar to any other cereal crop. In-crop applications in spring generally occur at times that coincide with pre-seeding glyphosate applications and seeding operations. Waiting until spring seeding is complete to spray winter wheat often results in poor weed control due to weeds becoming too large. The early growth habit of winter wheat also leads to increased crop canopy cover and potential crop injury due to the herbicide being applied beyond the safe application stage.
After a long dormant winter it is important to assess your winter wheat crop in the spring when the snow has melted, the weather has become warmer, and your crop will begin to grow again. There are many things to look at when assessing your winter wheat in the spring. Here are the things you should look for:
Winter Hardiness Factors
What was the plant stage before freezing?
It is important that your plant has a developed crown (three leaf and a tiller) before going into winter. A plant at this stage has maximum reserves and will be able to resume growth in the spring. Optimal seeding date and depth are important in seeing this stage before winter.
What was the snow cover over the winter?
It is important that your winter wheat crop be covered in four inches of snow (light and fluffy snow is best) for the coldest part of the winter (December 22 to March 20) to buffer from extremely low air temperatures.
This is an important nutrient in creating winter hardiness for winter wheat. It also helps in spring recovery of damaged plants.
Assessing Winter Wheat Survival
By removing a few of your winter wheat plants on a warm day, you can easily assess your winter survival. Keep the crowns on a moist paper towel exposed to light in a warm room for a few hours, maybe a day. If the crown tissue is damaged it will turn brown. If the tissue is not damaged it will stay white and begin to produce roots in a few days. Assessment should be made of the “worst-case” areas, where fertility may have been poor, snow cover was lost in cold temperatures, and/or plants did not develop the crown before winter. If the plants have survived in the worst-case areas the rest of the plants in the crop that did obtain these things should be fine.
Winter survival cannot be determined by leaf colour in the field. A brown leaf may not mean the plant is dead and a green leaf may not mean the plant is alive. Winter wheat plants need time to recover, so it is important to scout the crop as late as possible. When the plant has grown new roots, then new leaves will form; this will be aided by cool damp weather. If there is hot dry weather in the spring it can cause cracking and drying of the soil, which will be detrimental to the plants. Winter wheat crops should be assessed between May 15 and 25.
Don’t be alarmed by a thin stand in your winter wheat. Due to its excellent ability to tiller, winter wheat can be thin but still produce an excellent crop. Because winterkill often occurs in patches it can be difficult to assess plant population, so this shouldn’t be a reason to reseed. The optimum plant stand is 20-30 plants per square foot; however, 10-15 plants per square foot can still produce a profitable crop.
If You Choose to Reseed…
Some agronomic factors must be considered if reseeding after a winterkilled winter wheat crop. Reseeding to another wheat could cause an infestation of the Wheat Streak Mosaic Virus, so that should be avoided. Also, broadleaf crops (pulse, flax, canola) should not be seeded on land that was treated with 2,4-D in the fall or early spring. Remember to credit fall fertilizer.
Listen to the WWWI 2016 Spring Webinar as we hear from Kyle Gross, Manager of Cereal and Pulse Fungicides, Bayer, as he speaks on wheat disease review.
WWWI Western Winter Wheat Webinar on Spring Assessment. We are going to hear from Amanda Swanson, Agronomist, WWWI from southern Saskatchewan.
Listen to our WWWI 2016 Spring Winter Wheat Webinar. We are going to hear from Akriti Sharma, Technical Specialist for Winter Wheat for the Canadian International Grains Institute. She will be speaking on Cigi’s role in promotion Canada Western Red Winter Wheat.
We asked Western Canadian farmers to talk about the market potential for winter wheat. Watch this video to see what they said.
One of the great benefits of growing winter wheat is the balance of workload. We asked farmers in Western Canada to talk about how winter wheat helps with the overall workload on their farms. Watch this video to see what they said.