Winter cereal acre increase possible

Producers may not be able to harvest crops left in fields last fall before the spring seeding window closes

Wet fields in parts of Western Canada combined with unharvested acres from last year could translate into a noticeable bump in winter cereal plantings this fall, said the executive director of Winter Cereals Canada.

“There are going to be a lot of spring crops that aren’t going to get seeded this year,” said Jake Davidson.

“That’s unfortunate but it does offer a tremendous opportunity for more winter cereals — wheat, rye or triticale — to go in this fall at a good date.”

“Last time we had a situation where there was a lot of unseeded acres in the spring, our plantings (of winter cereals) did spike up a bit….”

Across Western Canada, nearly 2.5 million acres were left unharvested last fall.

That included about 1.3 million acres in Saskatchewan and 100,000 acres in Manitoba.

Those two provinces typically account for the vast majority of Western Canada’s winter cereal plantings.

Western growers have been picking away at last autumn’s unharvested acres over the past few weeks but progress has been slow.

Significant spring harvest delays will place added pressure on producers to deal with unharvested acres quickly before the spring seeding window passes.

“There’s a lot of stuff that has to come off the fields before anyone plants anything,” Davidson said.

“And in some cases, it’s going to be a long time before farmers are even going to be able to get onto those fields (with a combine).”

According to recent media reports, as much as 900,000 tonnes of canola has yet to be harvested this spring.

Winter cereals typically follow canola or pulses in western Canadian crop rotations.

In addition to offering growers a bit more breathing room during the busy spring season, winter cereals usually flower earlier than spring-seeded cereal crops.

This could offer growers relief from fusarium head blight, which was significant across the Prairies last year.

“It does flower earlier (than spring wheat) so it does offer a bit of an advantage,” Davidson said.

“Especially since we have a (winter wheat) variety, Emerson, that is rated as fusarium resistant.”

Emerson acreage has been increasing steadily in areas that normally plant winter cereals.

It is one of the most widely grown varieties in Manitoba and has emerged as the most popular replacement for Falcon, which is no longer recognized as a select milling variety.

In addition to Emerson, other fusarium-resistant winter wheat varieties have been registered and others are being developed.

Davidson said interest in fall rye has also increased since hybrid rye varieties, which offer substantially higher yields over non-hybrid cultivars, have become available.

Early-maturing canola varieties, including Brassica rapa cultivars, could also offer relief to growers who are struggling to balance harvest and seeding operations this spring.

Davidson said winter cereal crops in Saskatchewan came through the winter in relatively good shape.

But crops in Manitoba did not fare quite as well.

In southeastern Manitoba, winter wheat crops took a bit of a beating, he said.

Mild winter temperatures caused snow to melt and water pooled in low spots. When the freezing temperatures returned, low spots and saturated soils caused significant damage.

“It’s not what we would normally call winterkill because winterkill is normally caused by cold soils, blowing winds and a lack of snow cover.

“This was more a function of saturated soils and low spots that were totally frozen out.”

In general, the condition of winter cereals is the worst near Winnipeg area with conditions gradually improving as you move west into Saskatchewan.

“It’s a real dog’s breakfast, de-pending on where you are located, the nature of your land and your drainage,” Davidson said.

“In some areas, they look pretty good, but in others, it’s a different story. North of Winnipeg, growers are … considering some of their first plow-downs in 20 years.”

In Saskatchewan, winter cereals came through the winter relatively well, said grower Dale Hicks from Outlook.

“In south-central Saskatchewan and southwest Saskatchewan, we came through very good,” said Hicks, chair of the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission.

Hicks said he anticipates a slight increase in the province’s winter cereals plantings this year and an even bigger increase in 2018.

He said steady increases in canola acreage along with frustration with disease issues in durum will have producers looking for a new cropping alternative.

Winter cereal plantings peaked in Western Canada about six years ago when total plantings in Manitoba and Saskatchewan surpassed 600,000 acres.

In 2016, Manitoba growers planted about 140,000 acres of winter cereals.

Saskatchewan’s 2016 plantings were about 260,000 acres, Davidson said.

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