Flood irrigation Official believes introduction of cash crop may benefit southwestern Saskatchewan ranchers
Winter wheat could put more cash in the hands of producers with flood irrigated land, says a Saskatchewan Agriculture official.
As part of a demonstration project last fall, winter wheat was seeded at three sites in southwestern Sask-atchewan that more regularly see greenfeed.
Producers in the region, mostly ranchers, typically manage perennial forage systems of barley, oats and triticale sandwiched between alfalfa.
“The water for irrigation is not really at the beck and call of the producer. When it’s time to irrigate, all of the neighbours irrigate. The whole project irrigates and the water sort of comes at a time when an ivory tower says you get water. It doesn’t come when the producer necessarily wants it or calls for it,” said Gary Kruger, an irrigation agrologist with the agriculture ministry.
“So my thought was, ‘let’s get winter wheat in there because winter wheat will be big enough in the fall that it can probably survive the flood in spring.’ ”
Producers in the region are facing added costs as ownership of the irrigation projects are transferred from the federal and provincial governments.
Saskatchewan Agriculture says 100,000 acres receive the single springtime flood.
“What I’m trying to do is find ways that would help to improve their profitability so that they can continue to farm those acres as irrigated,” said Kruger.
“Because what’s going to happen if we don’t find a way is the projects will be abandoned and revert to regular farmland, dry land, or be sown down to pasture.”
Sites at Eastend and Consul were seeded in chem-fallow, while the Ponteix trial was on durum stubble.
All were seeded with the Moats variety.
Kruger said the two earliest-seeded sites advanced to the three to four leaf stage before freezing, while the other site lagged behind, making winterkill a possibility.
Reduced snow cover this year and a lack of snow catch from stubble on chem-fallow are also causes of concern, he said.
“If we have a winter that’s not too harsh, the chem-fallow idea, I think, can work quite easily,” said Kruger.
“But the winter of 2013-14 hasn’t been especially kind to that thinking. If we had last winter this year, it would’ve worked fine, but this year I’m expecting to have pretty significant winter kill.”
Kruger expects the plots to require minimal management during the growing season, other than one weed control application.
He said winter wheat is an attractive option because of its potential to yield higher than spring varieties and make use of nitrogen in the soil from alfalfa forage stands.
Seeding winter cereals in the fall is always a challenge, which is compounded by often dry conditions in the area.
“Certainly one of the difficulties we have working in the southwest is that the farmers are predominantly cattle farmers and so they don’t necessarily have access to disc drills … and low-disturbance seeding systems,” he said.
“So putting winter wheat into stubble isn’t necessarily the easiest for these guys because they don’t have the equipment.”