Harvesting the Benefits of Growing Winter Wheat

Jul 17, 2017


Written by Laura Laing


With high performance and profits from their 2016 winter wheat crop in their pockets and the promise of continued returns in 2017, many farmers across Western Canada are harvesting the benefits of growing this fall-seeded crop.


“The 2016 winter wheat crop showed great winter survival and really expressed itself through excellent returns and quality,” says Paul Thoroughgood, agronomist, Western Winter Wheat Initiative. “And similar to the success of the 2016 winter wheat crop, for those that had winter wheat in the ground last fall and harvested it, the 2017 crop is again showing the promise of great returns, as well as environmental benefits coming off the fields.”


According to Thoroughgood, winter wheat growers in his farming area of south central Saskatchewan were harvesting 80 to 90 bushels per acre and receiving $5 to $5.50 per bushel returns on their 2016 crop. A return, he says, that is hard to match in other cereals.


Winter wheat is a crop that has ecological advantages which help combat some of the challenges facing farmers today. Given its early and aggressive growth habit, annual grassy weeds, such as wild oat, are usually outcompeted allowing growers to forego a graminicide application. This break in herbicide application is an important tool in managing herbicide resistance. Winter wheat is also a crop that helps manage diseases brought on by wet spring conditions like fusarium.


“The extremely wet conditions of 2016 were very hard on spring cereals in our area. This led to epic levels of fusarium infection, particularly in durum. In most years, fusarium does not affect winter wheat in the same way,” says Thoroughgood. “In fact, my winter wheat crop experienced almost zero fusarium infection.” For producers in areas where fusarium can be an issue for winter wheat, particularly the Red River Valley, there are varieties available which are rated R for fusarium.


Thoroughgood says that part of the reason winter wheat is not affected by fusarium the same way as other spring crops is the fact that winter wheat is past the flowering stage of when fusarium typically infests the plant. In addition to being one of his most profitable crops, the crop also affords the ability to start harvest earlier and finish spring seeding earlier, as well. The crop also reduces spring seeding time pressure, widens the fall harvest window, and offers environmental benefits like providing anchorage into the soil and prevents losing critical top soil to erosion.


“With the excellent results of harvest, ecological, and land management benefits, we are seeing more and more farmers across Western Canada investigating if winter wheat can be a good fit for their farm.”


 The Benefits of Growing Winter Wheat

  1. High yield potential means increased returns per acre as compared to other cereal crops
  2. Avoids seeding problems on late, wet springs; earlier harvest than spring wheat
  3. Increased timelines and profitability of the entire rotation
  4. Increases the effectiveness efficiency of crop protection products
  5. Helps manage herbicide resistance
  6. Uses early spring moisture in dry areas more efficiently than spring cereals
  7. Provides soil cover during the fall and winter, reducing the potential for soil loss due to water and wind
  8. Spring moisture is not lost from seeding operation
  9. Yields range between 15 to 40 per cent higher than Canadian Western Red Spring wheat
  10. Matures earlier than spring cereals, spreading out harvest operations and reducing the potential for grade losses due to early frost
  11. Provides an ecological tool to help manage common annual pests in wheat such as most grassy weeds, orange blossom wheat midge, and wheat stem sawfly
  12. Less disturbance to wildlife, especially waterfowl and upland game birds

Paul Thoroughgood is an agronomist for the Western Winter Wheat Initiative. A grain farmer himself, Paul chose winter wheat as a career focus because he believes it is a crop that has the potential to change agriculture across the Prairies.