Winter wheat growing tips

Winter wheat has attributes that make it desirable to grow in Western Canada, but time management is one of the main reasons for growing the crop.

Seeding winter wheat in the sweet zone between Aug. 15 and Sept. 15 is crucial for success. Unlike past years, this might actually be possible this year because stubble might be available by then.

Seeding during this window allows the winter wheat to grow to the two to three leaf stage and enter winter at the stage in which it has the greatest chance for survival.

Here are factors to consider when growing the crop:

  • Variety selection — New varieties are licensed every year, but none have caught my attention for awhile like AC Emerson. This variety, distributed by Canterra Seeds, is the first wheat of any type in Western Canada to have an R rating for fusarium head blight. It has improved winter hardiness over CDC Falcon and Flourish and has similar yields to CDC Falcon. It carries a Canadian Western Red Winter 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 lives up to the hype.
  • Field selection — Seeding into canola and mustard stubble is ideal. Barley is a close second but there is always a danger of volunteer contamination. The jury is still out on pea stubble. Studies have shown reasonable success using pea stubble in black soil zones, and I know growers who regularly do this, particularly if the field is well protected and snow cover is reasonably guaranteed. There will be a chance of reduced plant stand, so I would recommend bumping the seeding rate to target at least 30 plants per sq. foot. Avoid fields with extreme exposure to prevailing northwest winds.
  • Weed control — An application of PrePass, which is glyphosate with Express Pro, before seeding will be beneficial, especially if seeding into canola or mustard stubble. The residual weed control will stretch well into fall.
  • Seed treatment — I have sometimes noticed dramatic results when using a premium seed treatment such as Raxil PRO Stress 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 at the Indian Head Agricultural Research Farm in 2013 and in side-by-side trials in farmers’ fields.
  • Seeding depth — Farmers who can’t see seeds on top of the ground have seeded too deep. Winter wheat likes to be seeded shallow, so 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 do not survive prairie winters.
  • Seeding rate — Aim for a target population of 25 to 30 plants per sq. foot. This will allow for some winter kill and still provide the recommended stand of 18 to 24 plants per sq. foot in spring. It’s a good idea with any crop to base seeding rate on seed size, germination percentage, seedling mortality and target plant density, and winter wheat is no exception because it has to survive winter.
  • 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 for higher rates. Using new technologies such as ESN, SuperU and Agrotain will help protect against fall nitrogen losses. Many farmers have had success applying anhydrous ammonia or urea during seeding. Growers can use a blend of half urea and half ESN applied mid-row or in a sideband, broadcasting two-thirds of the nitrogen as SuperU- or Agrotain-treated urea and applying one-third as urea in a side or midrow band. They can also apply two-thirds of the nitrogen in the fall and broadcast urea treated with Agrotain or SuperU in spring. Farmers who are trying to grow 11.5 percent protein winter wheat must keep nitrogen rates high.

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