Across Western Canada farmers are facing similar challenges. For starters, trying to find a rotation that works in our short growing season is tough. Add in the other realities such as herbicide resistant weeds, increased disease pressure, soil health and moisture management, while trying to find a crop that will not only grow, but be profitable, seems like an impossible feat. No matter the challenge, winter wheat can help.
Put the brakes on weeds
Winter wheat is an effective tool for farms wanting an advantage over tough weeds. As it gets an early start in the spring, winter wheat is one step ahead of those difficult plants. According to the University of Saskatchewan, “winter wheat provides different weed competition than spring-sown crops. In a properly planned rotation, differences in crop competition can be exploited to control weeds, thereby reducing both herbicide use and production costs.”
Over the past few years, diseases have become equally aggressive as the weeds. It’s hard to find an area not impacted by Fusarium Head Blight and the disease is becoming more resistant to fungicides. Fusarium spores can survive over winter, sometimes on the roots of other plants, and often doesn’t show itself through symptoms until the summer months when it’s too late to do anything.
Winter wheat is able to stand up to FHB (as well as other diseases) better than spring wheat varieties, which may come as a surprise to those fighting fusarium year after year. According to the Government of Saskatchewan, “Winter wheat is susceptible, but often escapes infection because it flowers before fusarium spores are present.”
Emerson is a FHB resistant variety that is already known to Manitoba growers. And new varieties being released through Dr. Rob Graf’s breeding program at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada at Lethbridge continue to be bred for disease resistance and will be an asset to Prairie rotations.
Give soil some TLC
Soil health is a key part of any farm’s sustainability goals. The University of Guelph is conducting a long-term study of the effects of winter wheat on soil health at their Ridgetown campus. The study’s findings show a yield bump in both corn and soybeans grown after winter wheat, and that in harsh weather, winter wheat offers additional soil protection, keeping it on the farm instead of losing it to the environment. The Ridgetown study also points out that building better soil is a long-term process, which can discourage some growers hoping for more immediate results, but with the proper rotation it can be achieved.
Make better use of moisture
Seeding into standing stubble keeps soil moisture in the ground. This helps water get to the crop rather than evaporating into the air. Additionally, winter wheat’s early spring growth makes good use of water that is readily available, rather than relying on regular rainfall during the hot summer months.
It has become clear that thinking outside of the box is crucial to a farm’s bottom line. The challenges facing fields are real, and growers are looking for solutions anywhere they can. Considering winter wheat as a solution could be just the right fit for your farm.