Hardy winter wheat variety could boost prairie acres

Mazen Aljarrah, wheat and triticale breeder at the Field Crop Development Centre in Lacombe, Alta., stands in a field of Pintail winter wheat he bred. It took 10 years to breed the winter hardy winter wheat. | Mary MacArthur photo

FERINTOSH, Alta. — A hardy new variety of winter wheat could encourage growers to increase acres planted to the crop.

Pintail is the hardiest winter wheat grown in Canada and this is the second year that Silver Creek Colony has grown it. There has been no need to reseed even with poor snow cover and cold winter temperatures.

“It came through like a bull versus the previous varieties,” said Paul Hofer, farm boss with Silver Creek Colony near Ferintosh, Alta.

Hofer estimates the 800 acres of Pintail will yield 85 to 90 bushels per acre this year despite hail and just over 50 millimetres of rain during the growing season.

“It is nice to know you can seed in the fall and be confident you don’t have to reseed in the spring.”

Dave Solverson, a Camrose cattle producer, is considering seeding winter wheat for early spring grazing before the cattle are turned on pasture. The wheat will then be left to re-grow for silage.

“If it is very winter hardy, it will be great,” said Solverson.

Bob Mastin of Mastin Seeds, who acquired the rights for Pintail, believes it is a good alternative for livestock producers who traditionally seed rye or triticale for grazing.

Winter wheat seeded in summer can be grazed in fall, regrazed in spring and then turned into a grain or silage crop, said Mastin.

Hofer’s neighbour, Jeremy Pluim, has driven by the winter wheat fields for two years watching for winterkill, common in other winter wheat varieties.

“I thought for sure it would winterkill,” said Pluim, who plans to seed 400 acres of Pintail on pea stubble this month.

“If this comes off and yields are good, it will be a good option for rotation and weed management.”

Hofer seeded the latest winter wheat crop Sept. 12 into fababean stubble with 60 pounds of phosphorus at 240 lb. of seed per acre at a half-inch depth.

Just before freeze up, he added another 90 lb. of coated nitrogen, 40 lb. of potash and 10 lb. of sulfur. This spring he applied another 100 lb. of coated nitrogen.

Mazen Aljarrah, the wheat and plant breeder from the Field Crop Development Centre in Lacombe, Alta., developed the variety. He doesn’t recommend such high levels of nitrogen because of lodging concerns.

Hofer sprayed the field with a plant growth regulator to reduce height and had limited lodging. He also applied the fungicide Prosaro to give it added in-crop protection.

Pintail has moderate resistance to stripe and leaf rust and adequate resistance to fusarium.

Hofer didn’t think there was much disease pressure in the crop, but believed the fungicide kept the plant greener longer and added a few more bushels to the yield.

“If you have a strong agronomic package and get more rain, you reap what you sow.”

Aljarrah said when he started developing Pintail 10 years ago, his main goal was improved winter hardiness, intermediate height and good disease resistance.

“This is a fabulous field, it’s wonderful. It’s a good variety with good management,” said Aljarrah.

Pintail was released in 2011 and Mastin started multiplication plots that year on his Sundre seed farm. This year Pintail was grown on about 20,000 acres across Alberta.

Levi Cole of Coronation, Alta., said he intends to plant about 2,300 acres of Pintail this fall. The family has never grown winter wheat but putting it into rotation could help control weeds and spread out the harvest and seeding seasons.

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