Peace River farmers favour wheat over fescue

RYCROFT, Alta. — Peace River farmers used to seed creeping red fescue as a way to spread out the harvest season and the risks of spring seeded crops.

Low fescue prices have prompted many farmers to plant winter wheat instead.

“Winter wheat has replaced fescue acres as the other crop to help spread out harvest,” said Calvin Yoder, a forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture.

“We will never see the fescue acres like we had in the past.”

Paul Schoorlemmer of Rycroft, Alta., said he started growing winter wheat 10 years ago to spread out the financial and harvest risk.

He seeds 15 percent of his crop to winter wheat, depending on the previous year’s harvest.

Peace River area farmers seeded 50,000 acres of winter wheat two years ago, but acreage dropped to 20,000 to 30,000 acres last year because of the late harvest and excess moisture.

“The challenge we have is to get the crop off early enough to get it seeded back to winter wheat,” Schoorlemmer said during a tour of winter wheat and other plots on his farm.

Winter wheat is seeded around the first or second week of September and harvested the following year about the same time.

Schoorlemmer estimates winter wheat prices are similar to spring wheat and yields are 10 to 15 percent higher, depending on the season.

This season’s winter wheat is shaping up to be a bumper crop because of good spring moisture.

Ross McKenzie, an agronomist with Alberta Agriculture in Leth-bridge, said he’s a big fan of winter wheat.

“I’ve worked with winter wheat for 30 years. I like it. All things being equal, winter wheat has the potential to give 20 percent higher yields than spring wheat,” he told the tour group.

“The first trick is to make sure there is good germination established and make sure it has a good root system.”

Unlike spring wheat, winter wheat should be seeded shallow.

“The target is no deeper than one inch. Treat it like canola,” said McKenzie.

“Over the years the number one mistake is seeding too deep.”

Farmers should also aim for 30 plants per sq. foot with adequate fertilizer. McKenzie said the most efficient way to apply fertilizer is to put the majority down during seeding.

“I’m a fairly big fan of phosphorus. Twenty to 30 pounds seed placed with the wheat will help with winter survival.”

Sean O’Rourke and his father, Mike, grew winter wheat in the 1980s, but came to the tour because they’re thinking about growing it again.

“We’re kicking the idea around,” said Sean.

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