By Ken Gross
Winter wheat is clearly a top crop for profitability as outlined by provincial documents comparing estimated crop revenues in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. High yields, usually between 15 to 40 per cent higher than spring wheat, are the primary reason why this high-performing crop is so profitable. Yield is a function of agronomic management and the environment. With that in mind, Western Winter Wheat Initiative (WWWI) Agronomists recommend that producers start their management plans this spring in order to ensure that winter wheat becomes part of their crop rotation this fall.
Winter wheat is seeded in the fall, preferably around the optimal seeding date, which is usually between the last week of August to September 15th. Winter wheat is seeded into standing stubble to ensure enough snow is trapped on the field to insulate the crop from our harsh winters. It is crucial to have suitable stubble available in the optimal seeding window to ensure winter wheat production is successful. Producers need to select fields for their winter wheat and seed them this spring to an early-maturing crop like canola. This will help ensure that the spring stubble crop will be harvested in time for a winter wheat crop to be seeded this fall. Or will it?
It is no surprise that most producers seed winter wheat on canola stubble as it is the best fit in terms of crop rotation and management of stubble. However, cool wet spring conditions can delay spring seeding, making for a tight winter wheat seeding window.
A prudent strategy is to have a contingency plan to fall back on should canola or other target stubble be unavailable. Grain crops like spring oats or barley can provide suitable stubble. Spring wheat stubble would be the least desirable alternative due to the risk of infection from the wheat streak mosaic virus. The virus can be avoided if the “green bridge” is eliminated with glyphosate and seeding is delayed for 10 to 14 days to ensure complete dry-down of all green growth. Another alternative many growers use is seeding into a pulse stubble such as pea or lentil. These stubble types do not provide the desirable snow trapping potential that canola and other crops afford and therefore do provide a higher risk of winter damage. However, if a grower chooses to seed winter wheat into a higher risk stubble seeing early in the recommended planting window can help ensure that the crop enters winter in the best possible condition.
One of the key steps to a successful winter wheat crop is ensuring that suitable stubble is available for early September. Selecting an early maturing variety of canola may be the most important decision in having stubble fields available for seeding this fall. Start planning today to include this profitable crop in your rotation.