Top Crop Manager

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Ontario farmers recover from record winterkill of winter wheat in 2019


December 9, 2019
By Top Crop Manager


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This year reported the largest winter wheat winterkill event for Ontario in the history of the winter wheat plan with Agricorp, the province’s crop insurance provider.

To help winter wheat producers, Agricrop provided $46 million to Ontario producers for replanting and yield shortfalls with $28 million going towards replant payments and $18 million going towards yield shortfalls, according to the 2019 Cereals Seasonal Summary published by Ontario’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA) field crop team.

The counties with the greatest number of acres lost included Lambton, Essex, Chatham-Kent, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, Prescott and Russell, Leeds-Grenville and Ottawa. Middlesex, Haldimand, Wellington and Perth counties all harvested less than 70 per cent of the acres seeded the previous fall. Many of those acres lost were seeded to either corn or soybean with the remaining acres being seeded to a forage crop, cover crop or left unseeded, according to OMAFRA’s seasonal report.

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Starting off on a wet foot

Poor winter survival rates for winter wheat in 2019 were a direct result of poor planting conditions in 2018. The cool, wet spring in 2018 delayed soybean planting, and as a result, the delayed soybean harvest pushed winter wheat seeding into later in the fall. While growers who opted for early maturing soybeans were able to plant winter wheat in better conditions, most growers seeded winter wheat from mid- to late October, and even into November. The poor planting conditions did not set the winter wheat up for success. While early planted fields had the opportunity to establish a root system and tiller before winter, much of the crop in the province hadn’t emerged before snow fell.

In addition to challenging planting conditions, winter wheat dealt with many freeze-thaw cycles over the winter months that results in many fields being covered with a layer of ice right through to April. This ultimately impacted winter survival regardless of planting date or seeding depth, OMAFRA’s report stated.

Many winter wheat fields did not emerge until the spring, with some fields not fully emerging until mid-May. Some fields also experienced uneven emergence and large bare spots which had to be filled in with cover crops or a spring cereal. The exceptionally wet conditions in April and May did not help, and it was tough for producers to get into the fields, let alone replant. The wet spring delayed many plans, and it’s no surprise that winter wheat harvest was also delayed. According to OMAFRA’s season report, winter wheat harvest was delayed by anywhere from seven to 14 days for many parts of the province, with harvest beginning around July 15.

Better than expected yields

Joanna Follings, cereals specialist with OMAFRA, when speaking about the winter wheat season on an episode of Inputs, said “Growers were really anticipating pretty low yields, but we’re seeing much better yields than we could’ve anticipated.

“For the early planted wheat we’re getting anywhere from 80 to 100 plus bushels per acre (bu/ac), and in the later-planted wheat we’re getting some ranging in the 60 to 70 bu/ac mark. But in some instances we are getting yields as low as 30 bu/ac, and that’s unfortunate for some of those areas, but all in all, growers are pretty happy with what they got.”

The average yield for soft red wheat was 77 bu/ac, hard red wheat was 77 bu/ac and soft white wheat was 84 bu/ac. Central Ontario, Essex and Niagara counties reported yields well below their ten-year averages.

However, according to the cereals season report, good conditions through September and October allowed for many soybean fields intended for winter wheat to be harvested in good time and wheat was seeded into excellent conditions for the most part. The rough winter wheat season of 2019 did not deter growers and approximately 1,046,455 acres of winter wheat was seeded in Ontario this year.

Cereals summary highlights

Highlights from OMAFRA’s 2019 Cereals Seasonal summary include:

  • Poor seeding conditions in the fall resulted in 2019 being the largest winterkill event in the history of the winter wheat plan with Agricorp.
  • A significant portion of spring cereals were seeded much later than normal with planting extensions granted for many regions. By mid-June most of the spring cereals were seeded. Barley, oat and spring wheat acres were up in 2019 with while mixed grain acres were down. The increase in spring cereal acres in 2019 was due to the significant amount of winter wheat stands that were lost.
  • It was tough for producers to get into the fields to spray off poor stands or to plant corn or soybeans because of wet conditions. As a result, many compromised winter wheat stands that would typically be removed were kept.
  • Thankfully, early disease pressure was relatively low due to cooler conditions and thinner canopies.
  • Wet conditions persisted right through pollination and DONcast model predictions pointed to high Fusarium head blight (FHB) risk. Due to the uneveness of the crop T3 fungicide applications had to be timed later in the application window to get adequate coverage of as many heads as possible.
  • Many retail outlets reported that 90 per cent or more of the wheat acres in their area received a T3 fungicide application. Shorty after this period, dry conditions prevailed and no longer favoured the development of fusarium head blight. The dry conditions continued through to August for many regions causing some additional stress to the crop which was evident as the wheat began to turn colour.
  • Cereal leaf beetle (CLB) was reported at higher than normal levels in many locations once again this growing season. Aphids and slugs were also reported at higher than normal levels in some fields.
  • Despite the tough planting conditions and dry conditions that came through July, spring cereals did exceptionally well in 2019.
  • Overall, elevators and millers reported high falling numbers with very low fusarium/DON levels and were quite happy with the Ontario wheat crop. Despite the thinner wheat stands and shorter crop, straw yields were very strong.
  • Spring cereals did much better in 2019 compared to 2018 and some argued they did better than their winter wheat crop. Spring wheat had an average yield of 59 bu/ac (101 per cent of average farm yield (AFY)), mixed grain averaged 68 bu/ac (95 per cent AFY), oats averaged 83 bu/ac (98 per cent of AFY) and barley was 65 bu/ac (100 per cent of AFY).
  • Once winter wheat was harvested many growers opted to seed a cover crop such as oats, oats/peas, oats/radish, etc.

Read the full cereals seasonal summary here.