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Planning for Winter Wheat

Nov 30, 2017

How can growers add winter wheat to their cropping plans?

By John Dietz

It’s too early to know the market outlook for a crop that won’t be harvested until July 2018, and it’s too early to know the field conditions for planting next September, but a couple of good choices now could set the stage for the opportunity to plant winter wheat during the 2018 harvest season.

Now is the time to put winter wheat on your planting radar to achieve successful results, according to Janine Paly, Alberta agronomist for the Western Winter Wheat Initiative (WWWI). Winter wheat has many benefits for growers who manage to work it into their production calendar.

“Growers are starting to plan and pre-buy seed now for next spring,” Paly says. “To work winter wheat into your plan, it’s essential to select an appropriate spring crop to precede winter wheat.” Planning to have stubble available for the optimum winter wheat seeding window in your region is the first step towards achieving a successful crop.

“We suggest growers seed into canola stubble,” Paly says. “Canola stubble has the best snow-trapping ability; it provides good weed sanitation, and it provides a huge yield benefit.”

Alberta Agriculture research and crop insurance data indicates that in direct-seeding systems wheat yields increase 10 to 20 per cent in canola stubble in Alberta. In Manitoba and Saskatchewan, and depending on the winter wheat variety, the yield benefit can be as much as 40 per cent.

“When selecting a canola variety, we encourage selecting an early- to mid-season variety or try to plant the canola as early as possible in the spring for an early harvest,” suggests Paly. The stubble field should be available on September 1 for best success with planting winter wheat.

“The taller the stubble, the better, the more potential there is for snow trapping. Four inches of snow insulation will provide enough buffer for the winter wheat to survive a Prairie winter.”

“We recommend having a contingency plan in case the canola stubble isn’t available,” says Paly. Canola stubble isn’t the only option for winter wheat. Stubble from oats, barley or forage crops can be good options, too. Wheat stubble isn’t recommended because it can make a green bridge for wheat streak mosaic or a mite to move onto the winter wheat crop.

Preparation and planning are key to being successful as harvest operations continue after the first canola comes off.

The selected fields need at least 10 to 14 days before the new crop is planted. Ideally, during that short window, some soil testing can be done, and a crop of canola volunteers will emerge in time for a pre-seeding burnoff.

You may not get that 10- to 14-day break, so it’s important to have the inputs, machinery, and manpower ready to plant while the rest of the harvest is underway, then the soil testing and weed control can be done after the crop has emerged. “Getting your inputs and equipment lined up early will help in a successful transition to getting that first crop into the ground,” encourages Paly.

Online help with planning and other information on winter wheat can be found through the WWWI website: www.growwinterwheat.ca or you can contact your local agronomist.