Skip to content

Winter wheat has its place

Winter wheat has a number of attributes that make it a desired crop to grow in western Canada. These have been discussed a number of times but time management is one of the biggest reason most growers mention when asked why they grow the crop.

Winter wheat has a number of attributes that make it a desired crop to grow in western Canada. These have been discussed a number of times but time management is one of the biggest reason most growers mention when asked why they grow the crop.

One of the major factors to success when growing winter wheat is to get it seeded in the sweet zone that, for most of western Canada, is between August 15 and September 15. Unlike past years, there may actually be stubble ready to seed into! Seeding into this window allows for the winter wheat to grow to two-three leaf stage and enter the winter at the stage where it has the greatest chance for survival.

Some other tips and practices that I have observed over the years are listed below. While they may not work every year in every location (in other words “no guarantees”) they may be worth considering.

Variety selection – There are new varieties being licensed every year. None, however have caught my attention for a number of years as has AC™ Emerson. This variety, distributed by Canterra Seeds, is the first wheat of any type in western Canada to have an R rating for FHB. It has improved winter hardiness over CDC Falcon and Flourish and has similar yields to CDC Falcon. It carries a CWRW milling class designation and is resistant to stem and stripe rust. From what I have seen in the field and what growers are saying, it is a variety that does live up to the hype.

Field selection – Ideally, seeding into canola or mustard stubble is the most desirable practice. Barley is a close second but there is always a danger of contamination in the crop by volunteers. One question that I always ask and have never had a great answer, though, is about pea stubble. While there is not much left for stubble to act as a snow catch, I am always troubled by the question “Is it better to seed into pea stubble on September 1 or into canola stubble on October 1?”

There are studies that have been done that show reasonable success using pea as a stubble in the black soil zones. I also know growers who regularly do this and have found that if the field is fairly well protected and where snow cover is more or less guaranteed. There will be a chance of reduced plant stand so I would recommend “bumping” the seeding rate to target at least 320 plants/square metre (30 plants square foot). Avoid fields with exposure to the NW prevailing winds.

Weed control – An application of PrePass or glyphosate and Express Pro prior to seeding will prove beneficial, especially if seeding into canola or mustard stubble. The residual weed control will stretch well into the fall.

Seed treatment – I have observed sometimes quite dramatic effects to having used a “premium” seed treatment such as Raxil PROStress Shield or Cruiser Maxx Vibrance cereals. The effect may not be as evident on fall emerging plants but these products can improve winter survival and plant vigour in the spring. I have seen this both in small plots (IHARF 2013) and in side-by-sides in farmer’s fields.

Seeding depth –If you can’t see seeds on top of the ground – you seeded too deep! Winter wheat likes to be seeded shallow – use the same setting as you would for canola. It is better to plant shallow into dry soil than deep into moist. Deep-seeded plants just do not survive our winters.

Seeding rate Shoot for a target population of 270  320 plants/m2 (25 30 plants/ft2). This will allow for some winter kill and still provide the recommended stand of 1824 plants p/ft2 in the spring. Basing your seeding rate on seed size (thousand kernel weight  TKW), germination percentage, seedling mortality and the target plant density is a good exercise.

Fertilizer – applying phosphate and potash with the seed is a good start. Use rates to the maximum safe levels for your openers and soil. There are a number of options for nitrogen. Utilizing new technologies such as ESN and SuperU and Agrotain will help to ensure fall N losses are minor. This having been said, the practice of applying NH3 or urea at seeding is successfully employed by many growers. A couple of strategies that could be employed would be to use a blend of half urea/half ESN applied midrow or sideband; broadcasting 2/3 of N as SuperU or Agrotain treated urea and applying 1/3 as urea sidebanded or midrow banded. Another strategy would be to only apply 2/3 of the N in the fall and broadcast urea treated with Agrotain or SuperU in the spring.

If you are trying to grow 11.5 Px winter wheat, you must keep the N rates high.

I wish you luck if you plant winter wheat. It is a great cropping option to work into your rotation. Hopefully this insight will help you to be successful.