growing winter wheat

irrigation for winter wheat

It is important for winter wheat to have a controlled rate, amount, and timing of applied irrigation water. With planning and efficiency a winter wheat crop can have great success.

winter wheat water needs

Winter wheat uses water for evapotranspiration (ET) and the requirements will depend on variety, growth stage, canopy, density, climatic conditions, and irrigation and crop management.

Optimal conditions for winter wheat are to be well-fertilized, well-irrigated, seeded in standing stubble, pest-free, and with a uniform and optimum canopy, and in optimal conditions, winter wheat requires 400 to 430 mm of water per growing season, based on conditions in southern Alberta.

When winter wheat is seeding in, if available water is at 60 to 100 per cent, it will germinate, grow rapidly, and reach a peak water use of between 1.5 to 2 mm per day in October prior to freeze-up. When winter wheat comes out of dormancy in April, it will use anywhere between 0.1 mm of water to 7mm during the flowering and fruit formation stages.

Soil water levels in the root zone can be used to measure when to start and stop irrigation. 


winter wheat water usage

Daily Water Chart



winter wheat irrigation scheduling strategy

Ideally to plant winter wheat you should have a seedbed that is near 80 per cent of field capacity (the maximum amount of water your soil can hold).

If your seedbed is dry prior to seeding, a light irrigation of 15 mm should be applied.

During the vegetative growth stages, water should not be depleted to less than 50 per cent in the upper 50 cm of the 100-cm root zone. Irrigation during this stage should start when the available soil water is near 60 per cent to prevent it from getting below 50 per cent.

At the beginning of the late boot/early heading and flowering stages, irrigations should be scheduled to fill the entire root zone at 100 cm to field capacity.

Adequate soil water for winter wheat is most important in the flowering growth stage. During this period the root zone should be increased from 50 cm to 100 cm and soil water should not go below 60 per cent of available.

Once the crop has reached maturity and the colour has turned from green to brown, the crop will no longer need irrigation water.

winter wheat estimated water amount requirements

Soil texture-based estimation of total available water and water amounts per irrigation event for winter wheat during the winter wheat growing season
  • Soil Texture

  • 50-cm root zone
    (vegetative or pre-flower
    growth stages)

    • Total available water (mm)

    • Water required to replenish soil to field capacity at 50% allowable depletion (mm)

  • 100-cm root zone
    (flowering, fruit formation, and
    maturation growth stages)

    • Total available water (mm)

    • Water required to replenish soil to field capacity at 40% allowable depletion (mm)

  • Loamy sand

  • 57

  • 28

  • 114

  • 46

  • Sandy loam

  • 70

  • 35

  • 140

  • 56

  • Loam

  • 90

  • 45

  • 180

  • 72

  • Sandy clay loam

  • 76

  • 38

  • 152

  • 61

  • Silt loam

  • 100

  • 50

  • 200

  • 80

  • Clay loam

  • 100

  • 50

  • 200

  • 80

  • Silty clay loam

  • 110

  • 55

  • 220

  • 88

  • Sandy clay

  • 86

  • 43

  • 172

  • 69

  • Silty clay

  • 106

  • 53

  • 212

  • 85

  • Clay

  • 96

  • 48

  • 192

  • 77

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