Myths of Winter Wheat are Falling Fast

Oct 27, 2017

By John Dietz

Winter wheat is a low-input, low-yield crop. True or False?

There’s no market for winter wheat. True or False?

No varieties of winter wheat are suitable here. True or False?

False, to all of them, answers Ken Gross, agronomist at Brandon, Manitoba, for the Western Winter Wheat Initiative (WWWI) and Ducks Unlimited Canada.

Those are just three of many myths associated with the fall-seeded, high-potential wheat. Gross runs into myths frequently among growers and at meetings – and likes to bust them with facts.

“The biggest myth is the ‘low input, low yield’ idea. That’s just not the case,” Gross says. “When they treat their winter wheat the same way they treat canola – putting on the fertilizer for a high yield – they tend to get pretty good results.”

The past growing season has been dry to very dry on the southern Prairies. It provided a great test for winter wheat potential. Ninety-day precipitation is mostly 20 to 60 percent of normal, according to

“A lot of areas only got an inch or two of rain, yet I’m seeing winter wheat yields at anywhere from 60 to 95 bushels per acre from different producers, on dryland. Those are pretty good results in a dry year. We never dreamed of yields like that in the 1980s (when it also was dry), but we’re getting them now. That shows the potential of the crop,” he says.

Gross suspects the “low input, low yield” myth relates to the practice of fertilizing winter wheat with a nutrient package similar to spring wheat. That’s not a good idea, and it leads to the next myth, low protein in winter wheat.

“Winter wheat yields 20 to 40 per cent more than spring wheat, across the Prairies, but you have to fertilize for that. Fertilized at the same rate as spring wheat, it will go into yield and will leave you a little shy on protein. If you put down the proper amount of nitrogen, your protein level will be much closer to 11 per cent or more,” the agronomist myth-buster says.

Two Myths Busted

Back in the 1980s, the only winter wheat seed available was for a tall, lodging-prone line known as Northstar.

Plant breeders in Lethbridge, Saskatoon and Winnipeg have delivered many options for winter wheat in the past 20 years, he says.

“The supply of varieties is no longer a concern, despite the myth,” Gross says.

Depending on where you are, there are seven to nine Canada western red varieties and five to eight Canada western general purpose varieties for choice – with more coming. Selections can be made for disease resistance or milling quality as well as yield.

Most varieties are public, supplied through Secan or Canterra, but not all. FP Genetics, Seed Depot, and Western Ag also have winter wheat seed to sell.

Broken Myths

Winter kills. Survival on the Prairies is similar to the rate in Kansas, the largest winter wheat growing state in the U.S. Newest varieties are even better.

Low quality. Our winter wheat is highly valued for the white flour colour and high flour yield. New varieties have improved protein. Millers like winter wheat quality.

Hard to sell. Partially true, but look beyond the local elevator to millers, ethanol markets, and feed markets. Before buying the seed, identify who wants to buy that type of winter wheat.

Too dry to seed. Seed shallow and wait. Less than a half-inch of rain will germinate the crop.

No time to seed. Partially true. Doing both seeding and harvesting in August or September is a juggling act. But, that’s just the first time. In the long run it opens a window to less pressure in both spring and fall, while providing a window to cash flow right off the hop at harvest.