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Unseeded acres this summer? Consider winter wheat

Producers have a few options for their unseeded acres this summer

A bad harvest followed by a wet, cool spring likely means that many producers won’t get all of their fields seeded this spring.

And that means making the best of a bad situation.

“Once we enter the middle of June, we’re looking at what producers can do with unseeded acres,” said Neil Whatley, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.

“If you can’t get the crop in, you’ll have to look at something like chemfallow for the summer. But that would mean losing a year of income from the field.”

Another option is to plant a legume green manure crop — “a crop that will be worked into the soil or incorporated later in the growing season.”

“That’s a viable option to chemfallowing because it reduces the nitrogen input for the next crop and helps build soil quality,” said Whatley.

Producers can also grow cocktail cover crop mixtures as a forage source, added provincial forage specialist Karin Lindquist.

“They could graze it or take it off as silage or use it for swath grazing,” she said. “That’s good if they have animals, but if they don’t have animals, they’ll have to utilize their neighbours’ animals for those unseeded acres.”

But for straight grain farmers, 2017 might be the perfect year to try their hand at winter wheat.

Janine Paly.
photo: Supplied

“As soon as they decide they’re not able to seed a spring crop, I think there are opportunities for growers to think about alternative crops,” said Janine Paly, agronomist at the Western Winter Wheat Initiative.

“It’s really frustrating for those who wanted to seed this spring and couldn’t. But for those who are faced with delayed seeding, there is an opportunity to seed winter wheat this fall.”

Winter wheat acres have dipped the past couple of years as a result of wet autumn conditions, said Paly.

“The last couple of years have been a real struggle for winter wheat acres,” she said. “But given there are unseeded acres this year, we’re anticipating that there should be an increase in winter wheat across the Prairies.”

With unseeded acres, producers won’t have to worry as much about timing their winter wheat seeding around fall harvest — one of the biggest barriers to producers trying the crop in their rotations.

“Those growers can actually go in earlier and seed that winter wheat crop without actually disrupting their harvest,” said Paly.

The optimum seeding window is generally the first two weeks of September, but producers can use their unseeded acres as an opportunity to seed early.

“There’s always that question that arises about how early we can potentially seed winter wheat. Generally speaking, we always recommend seeding earlier rather than later,” she said, adding that ideally the crop would be at the three- to four-leaf stage, with a well-developed crown, by the time the snow flies.

Winter wheat also offers growers “a good head start” for next year, said Paly, by utilizing spring moisture, spreading out the workload at seeding, and breaking disease cycles.

But it’s the yield boost that usually draws growers to winter wheat, she said.

“Depending on the area, they might see anywhere between 10 to 40 per cent yield increase over a spring wheat crop.”

Growing a winter wheat crop is a bit different from growing spring wheat, so producers should do some research into best management practices, which include maintaining stubble in the field and avoiding cultivation as much as possible.

“Due to its unique time frame of seeding and harvest, it does require special attention to maximize opportunities and produces profitable results,” said Paly. “We really want growers to be successful, and by planning ahead, growers will achieve that success with this crop.”

For more information about growing winter wheat, visit www.growwinterwheat.ca or attend an upcoming crop tour across the Prairies this summer.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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