The two million acres of prairie farmland seeded to winter wheat this fall pale in comparison to the tens of millions of acres dedicated to the crop in the United States.
However, the number shows significant growth from a few decades ago, when a few hundred thousand acres were grown in Canada, mostly for feed.
Since then, breeding efforts have allowed for the crop to creep up from the Pacific Northwest and across the Prairies.
Officials say new opportunities are also opening up to market the crop.
“If I look at the acreage of, say durum, which when you look at is quite limited in terms of where it can be produced, I don’t see why we can’t have winter wheat on the same amount of acres,” said Brian Beres, an agronomist with Agriculture Canada in Lethbridge.
Almost five million acres were seeded to durum this year.
“There’s so many benefits that can be exploited from winter wheat over some of the other wheat classes that I think you’re starting to get some of the bigger players behind winter wheat,” said Beres.
Winter wheat acres spiked in the mid-1980s at more than one million, with more than 880,000 seeded in Saskatchewan alone in 1986.
A large crop failure, winterkill and a stem rust outbreak in the mid-1980s dampened enthusiasm and acres fell dramatically. Funding, breeding lag times and issues with kernel visual distinguishability requirements also hurt the crop.
Today, winter wheat cultivars are high yielding with good disease resistance. Quality has also improved for milling purposes. Concerns about winterkill are reduced by seeding into stubble.
Acres have varied over the last decade but have shown steady growth in recent years.
After taking over the University of Saskatchewan’s breeding program at the Crop Development Centre in the early 1970s, Brian Fowler helped introduce more than two dozen varieties of winter wheat, including CDC Falcon. The last variety from his winter wheat breeding program, which closed a decade ago, is coming online now.
That variety, CDC Chase, is a high-yielding hard red winter wheat eligible for grading in the Canada Western Red Winter wheat class.
CDC Falcon, meanwhile, is moving to the Canada Western General Purpose class next year because of low protein content.
“In Manitoba, there’s going to be a major change with the favourite variety no longer being a milling wheat,” said Jake Davidson, executive director of Winter Cereals Canada.
“It’s going to take a couple of years to adjust, but I think you’re going to see it very much segregated into those that grow for themselves and are happy and those that want to have an opportunity to make that extra dollar that are going to be heading for the Emersons, the Moats … to attempt to go for that top dollar. The best farmers always want to grow the best crop. Not many people deliberately go for feed.”
Beres believes too many CWRS and CPS crops are produced on the Prairies.
“You don’t find too many multipurpose end uses out of a single variety.”
He pointed out winter wheat’s potential in feed, ethanol and milling markets.
“Even some of these newer winter wheats are developing a quality profile that’s not really that far off a CWRS anyway,” he said.
“I don’t think we’re going to upset the marketing environment by switching, say, CPS acres over to winter wheat, for example, or displacing some of those CWRS areas that are consistently not developing or not producing CWRS No.1 anyway.”
Agriculture Canada’s breeding efforts are now focused at its research centre in Lethbridge, but funding for wheat programs is improving with new public-private partnerships, said Fowler.
Private companies with breeding programs in northern U.S. states may now eye prairie growers following the demise of the CWB single desk, he added.
“If you look at the pedigrees of the winter wheat varieties that were successful and the ones that really caused the increase in productivity, they all have a very strong U.S. component in the pedigree,” said Fowler.
“Really, what we did was to put cold hardiness into those varieties.”
He said he expects to see new opportunities to release varieties with different quality characteristics.
THEN: New winter wheat for use in Northwest
Gaines, a soft white winter pastry wheat from the United States which was licensed for production in Canada this year, is to be replaced in the Pacific Northwest by a superior variety, according to a report from Washington.
Nugaines, a sister selection of Gaines, with equal yielding ability but superior milling quality and test weight, has been released to certified U.S. seed growers in the states of Washington, Idaho and Oregon. It will take two years to increase the present supply of 250 bushels of foundation seed to meet the seed requirements for the 3,500,000 U.S. acres planted to Gaines in 1965.
THEN: Cash receipts hit new high
Canadian farmers’ cash receipts from farming operations hit a record $2,659,400,000 in the first nine months of this year, the Dominion Bureau of Statistics reported last week. DBS pointed out that the figure was gross — not counting the farmer’s cost of production.
Receipts were up 5.4 percent from the same period of 1964.
The DBS figures included cash from the sale of farm products. Canadian Wheat Board payments on previous year’s crops, cash advances on farm-stored grains in western Canada, and deficiency payments made by the Agricultural Stabilization Board.
Most of the 5.4 percent increase was the result of higher Wheat Board payments out of funds earned on the sale of earlier crops.
There were also higher returns from potatoes, cattle, hogs and dairy products.
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