Wheat class is now in session — which one will you grow?

Hard red spring dominates wheat acres in Alberta, but you have to do the math for your farm

So what’s it going to be on your wheat acres? Canadian Prairie Spring or Canadian Western Red Spring?

“For us, it all comes down to what we can grow well and how it pencils out in terms of profitability,” said Hannah Konschuh, who farms near Cluny.

“Usually, it’s dictated by the markets. At this point in the year, we have a good idea of where prices are going to be based on what we’ve been able to forward contract.”

Konschuh has usually grown both on her family’s 5,000-acre grain farm, but last year — for the first time in a long while — she didn’t grow any Canadian Prairie Spring (CPS) wheat.

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“Things do change. We’ve seen some changes with the way wheat classes have worked over the last few years, based on changes at the Canadian Grain Commission,” she said, adding that hasn’t impacted her growing decisions yet but she’s keeping an eye on varieties that could be reclassified in the future.

“For us, it just has to pencil out into a good financial decision.”

And for much of the province, that usually means a lot of Canadian Western Red Spring (CWRS) acres, said Geoff Backman, business development and markets manager with Alberta Wheat.

“When an acre is won by wheat, it does become a question of whether CPS or CWRS is going to grow there,” he said. “The main factor that seems to drive acreage share for different crops is price — what they expect the return per acre is.

“As a result, we’ve seen the majority of acres for wheat continually going to one class — CWRS. That is, by far, the class of wheat that commands the most acres.”

Anywhere between 65 to 70 per cent of Canadian wheat acres go to CWRS, even though CPS consistently outyields it by 15 to 20 per cent, depending on the location and growing conditions. In regions where CPS does well — like the Edmonton area — that yield boost climbs to between 25 and 30 per cent.

“When prices between CPS and CWRS are similar, there can be a financial benefit to growing CPS,” said Backman. “However, when the price difference is wide, as was the case last year, CWRS is difficult to replace with CPS.”

Right now, CWRS is pencilling out ahead of CPS, but that could change as prices firm up heading into spring. Because of that, nothing is set in stone on Konschuh’s farm at this point.

“Probably right up until the end of March, we’ll still be batting back and forth how much of what crop we’re going to seed based on how things are looking.”

Variety changes

But even if it doesn’t make sense to change wheat classes this year, it might be a good time to consider a new variety.

“Thinking about our hard red spring acres, we grew our varieties for a long enough time that it was probably time to check in on how the genetics were looking compared to what was out there on the market,” said Konschuh.

“We made the decision to grow a different variety based on the fact that we wanted to make sure we were growing the best wheat we could.”

Over the past few years, Konschuh has worked with her local seed grower to determine which variety might work best on her operation. Typically, the most widely grown varieties have performed the best, and CDC Go was her go-to hard red spring variety. But last year, she grew a few acres of AAC Brandon as well.

“We grew just enough acres last year to give it a try and grow up our own seed stock,” she said. And it performed well, with good standability and grain quality. “Because of that, we will continue to grow it.”

That’s a good example of why producers should check in on their varieties every so often, Backman added.

“Varieties do change over time,” he said. “In 2000, one of the most popular varieties was AC Barrie, which has consistently lost market share, and its acreage has been surpassed by several different varieties, including CDC Go.”

In recent years, CWRS varieties AAC Brandon and AAC Elie have seen a “major uptick” in acres in Alberta, he said. On the CPS side, AC Foremost was one of the most popular CPS varieties until it was reclassified into the Canadian Northern Hard Red spring class. Now, AAC Penhold is gaining acres.

But ultimately, the variety and class you grow this year will depend on what works best on your individual operation.

“If you’ve never changed varieties or classes before, do your due diligence,” said Backman. “Talk to your neighbours, your delivery points, and your agronomist to get an idea of whether the new class or variety will work in your region.”

That’s what Konschuh did on her own farm, and so far, she’s happy with the results.

“We don’t go out and grow a ton of acres of a new variety or stop growing a variety that’s been working for us,” said Konschuh.

“For us, we’re pretty conservative with changes like that. We made gradual changes.”

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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