By Geoff Geddes
Most success begins with the seed of an idea, or in the case of winter wheat, an actual seed. How, when, and where you deal with that seed will go a long way to setting you up for triumph or failure come harvest time. While there are no guarantees in farming, there are some guidelines that can help you seed to succeed.
Mother Nature not always nurturing
“Farmers face many challenges with winter wheat that are weather-related and thus beyond their control,” says Amanda Swanson, an agronomist with the Western Winter Wheat Initiative out of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
“Depending on moisture levels and temperature at harvest, growers sometimes struggle to get the previous crop off in time to seed winter wheat. Typically, we see winter wheat on canola stubble; if the canola is late being harvested, that will delay winter wheat seeding, which could impact you at harvest.”
Excess moisture was recently an issue for some farmers in Saskatchewan.
“A couple of years ago, combines were getting stuck all over due to wet conditions. Trying to drag your drill out to seed in that environment was quite a challenge.”
At the other end of the spectrum, very dry conditions are a common problem as moisture in the fall is often a concern to get the winter wheat germinating and growing.
Date, depth, and distribution
Still, there are many factors that farmers CAN control in trying to maximize their winter wheat crop.
Survival in farming is like delivering a good punchline: it’s all about the timing, and winter wheat is no exception.
“Depending on where a grower is located, late August to mid-September is the target window for seeding to give the crop time to get established. If you’re in a climate like southern Saskatchewan where you don’t see frost as early, you could push it a bit later, but in the north you should aim for early September at the outside.”
And don’t fall into the trap of waiting for rain before you seed, as you may miss that optimal window.
“Just seed it when you have time and it’s likely the fall rains will come. When they do, you’ll have that seed in the ground absorbing moisture and getting off to a good start.”
This is one instance when being shallow is a good thing.
“You want to aim for 0.5 – 1 inch because winter wheat just needs a bit of moisture to germinate in the fall. By using shallow seeding, you only require a gentle rainfall to get that crop up and going.”
“Seeding rate will vary based on your variety as seed size can differ. The general target is 30-35 plants per square foot. We have a seeding rate calculator on our website to determine your seeding rate based on 1000-kernel weight (TKW), which is the new way to target plant populations.”
The perks of proper preparation
As the old saying goes, “proper preparation can prevent poor performance.”
“I encourage producers to start planning earlier in the season instead of waiting. Have your equipment ready and your seed and fertilizer on farm so you’re set to seed when the opportunity arises.”
Once you’ve covered all those bases, remember the real estate mantra: location, location, location.
“Different varieties adapt better to certain areas; for example, shorter varieties are usually preferable in Manitoba. Also, some varieties have better disease packages or thrive more under irrigation.”
To help you find the right fit, Swanson suggests going to growwinterwheat.ca and getting the contact information for an agronomist in your area who can offer customized advice.
Like raising a model child, if you invest enough time, thought, and attention to seeding your winter wheat, you’ll reap the rewards when it grows up.