By Ken Gross
Interest in winter wheat is high this summer as excessive moisture in many areas of the Prairies has producers thinking through their options for drying out fields. Winter wheat, one of the Prairies highest returning crops, can make use of the moisture if seeded this fall. Producers thinking of seeding winter wheat should understand that some of their most critical agronomic decisions are those that will enhance winter survival and ensure that the crop gets off to a competitive start. Here are some tips that will help produce your best winter wheat crop ever:
Stubble type – winter wheat is normally direct seeded into spring crop stubble that is capable of trapping snow to insulate the plants during the winter. Usually this means canola but many acres will be seeded into chemfallow stubble this year. Check out “Seeding Winter Wheat Into Chemfallow” on our website and pay close attention to the section on stubble disturbance and weed control.
Variety selection – partners in the Western Wheat Initiative have invested heavily in variety development with great results. Many new varieties have become available that have improved quality, disease resistance, and yield. Flourish and Gateway are potential replacements for Falcon as they are short varieties with “select” quality and are good choices for irrigation. Moats is set to replace Buteo and Radiant in many areas due to its improved yield, disease resistance, and uniformity. The variety selection document on our website will help you to choose the best variety for your area.
Seeding date – healthy, vigorous plants must be established before winter in order to achieve maximum cold tolerance. A plant that has three leaves and is starting to develop its first tiller would be ideal. Research has demonstrated that seeding during the period from August 25 to September 10 consistently produces the best crops in terms of both yield and quality. It is always better to seed early rather than late, as late seeding often results in reduced winter hardiness.
Seed treatment – research is starting to show that winter wheat can benefit from using a seed treatment. This year’s moist soils are more likely to carry soil-borne diseases, so the use of a seed treatment is cheap insurance to ensure the establishment of a healthy, vigorous crop.
Seeding rate – most producers seed winter wheat at 2 bushels per acre; however, recent research shows the benefit of using a simple calculation to target the desired plant population (see below). In particular, we are starting to see the value of targeting high plant populations. Higher plant populations will not only improve yields but increase crop uniformity so that fungicide applications are more effective. Also, it is important to understand that using the same bushel rate for a small seed like Falcon will result in lower plant populations if used with a larger seed like Flourish. Producers should target a plant population of approximately 30 plants/ft².
Seeding rate (lb/ac) = desired plant population/ft² x 1,000 kernel wt. (g) ÷ seedling survival rate (0.80) ÷ 10
Seeding depth and SPEED – most producers know that winter wheat must be seeded shallow (.5 to 1”) to allow the plant to emerge quickly and vigorously. However, I often see variable seeding depths in the field as many producers seed too quickly. Just like canola, winter wheat performs better if seeded at speeds closer to 4 mph than 6 mph.
Fertility Management – the excessive moisture conditions experienced across the Prairies this year will likely have resulted in significant leaching and denitrification losses of soil nitrogen. There may also be some mineralization on chemfallow acres so it is important to soil test prior to seeding. This is the only method of accurately assessing the nitrogen requirements of the crop.Winter wheat has the potential to out-yield spring counterparts by 15 to 40 per cent. To achieve the higher yield potential, winter wheat requires higher rates of fertilizer, particularly nitrogen. Always add phosphate at seeding to ensure strong root and crown development. This will improve the plant’s ability to survive the winter and re-grow vigorously in the spring.