Winter wheat group makes cost cutting changes

In the fall of 2013, farmers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan seeded more than 900,000 acres of winter wheat. Since then acres have steadily dropped, hitting 400,000 in the fall of 2016 and only 240,000 this year.

Consequently, the groups that represent winter wheat growers have fewer check-off dollars and during the last few months they’ve restructured.

On Feb. 22 Winter Cereals Manitoba announced that it has contracted the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association (MWBGA), along with the National Sunflower Association, to lead its day-to-day operations.

Those associations will help manage the research activities for Winter Cereals Manitoba and its communications with growers. Darcelle Graham of the National Sunflower Association will serve as executive director for Winter Cereals Manitoba.

“There are many natural synergies that exist currently between Winter Cereals Manitoba and MWBGA. We look forward to exploring how we can work more collaboratively together to benefit both spring and winter wheat producers in Manitoba,” said Fred Greig, MWBGA chair.

Doug Martin, Winter Cereals Manitoba chair, said directors of the group began seriously looking at restructuring in November, when executive director Jake Davidson resigned from his position.

“That created an opportunity to see the best direction to go,” said Martin, who farms near East Selkirk, Man.

Davidson was also the executive director of Winter Cereals Canada, which represents producers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

In Alberta, winter wheat growers are members of the Alberta Wheat Commission.

Winter Cereals Manitoba will have its own board of directors and it will maintain a strong relationship with the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission.

Winter Cereals Canada will continue to exist but its office will move from Minnedosa, Man.

“It will be run out of Saskatchewan,” Martin said.

The Winter Cereals Canada website says the organization’s new mailing address is in Saskatoon.

Many winter wheat growers failed to seed a crop last fall because soil conditions were exceptionally dry in many parts of the Prairies.

Estimates from Statistics Canada suggest that only 70,000 acres of winter wheat were seeded last fall in Manitoba.

Martin doesn’t have any winter wheat on his farm right now because of the dry soil conditions last fall.

The previous growing season, 2016-17, was also difficult for winter wheat in Manitoba. Only half of the 140,000 acres seeded in 2016 made it through the winter.

This winter has been tough because snow cover is minimal across much of southern Manitoba and Saskatchewan, which means there’s no insulating blanket for seeds in the ground.

Martin said the critical time for winter wheat is March, when the seeds begin to lose their winter hardiness.

“If we happen to have a melt, then a big freeze … that’s when we lose of our winter wheat (crop).”

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