Ontario’s huge winter wheat potential
By Top Crop Manager
New research will help determine optimum planting dates.
With the increasing pressures of day-to-day production, Ontario growers are
constantly looking for ways to maximize yields and improve their bottom line.
Winter wheat could definitely help growers in achieving that goal. The question
is, what can Ontario producers do to maximize the potential of this crop?
Beginning in the fall of 2004, Peter Johnson, cereal specialist for the Ontario
Ministry of Agriculture and Food (OMAF), started field scale trials on late
planting of winter wheat.
"We're looking to expand the window for wheat planting and to improve
the chances for higher wheat yields," explains Johnson. "In Ontario,
we have the perfect conditions for growing wheat. The highest 10 year wheat
yield averages in North America come from our region. Unfortunately, our wheat
acreage varies dramatically from year to year."
In 2003, Ontario had a record wheat crop of two million tonnes; however, the
2004 harvest came in considerably lower at 1.4 million tonnes. Historically,
Ontario wheat averages come in around one million tonnes with a steady market
for 500,000 to 600,000 tonnes of wheat, so when production is higher, Ontario
needs to look for new buyers.
"This puts us at a marketing disadvantage," continues Johnson. "When
we have a larger crop, we are forced to access new markets, however, new buyers
will only purchase our wheat at discount prices. We need to find a way to increase
and stabilize our wheat acreage so that we can constantly supply premium markets."
Pushing the planting limits
Planted seed lives off the energy reserves in the seed until the plant is at
the two leaf stage. After that, the plant depends on photosynthesis for energy,
as all of the seed reserves have been depleted.
If a seed is planted late in October, yield may be reduced. The plant uses
up all of its food reserves and does not have a chance to photosynthesize, leaving
the plant with no energy reserves to live on through the winter.
This late October planting time frame has been termed as the 'black hole' by
Rob Templeman, an agronomist with Pioneer Hi-Bred. Dr. Duane Falk, an associate
professor with the Department of Plant Agriculture at the University of Guelph,
developed the physiological explanation of the 'black hole' time frame.
Essentially, plants seeded before the 'black hole' time frame have enough time
to develop beyond the two leaf stage and gain enough energy through photosynthesis
to survive the winter.
"Theoretically, if the seed is planted later than the 'black hole' time
period, the plant will survive on its seed reserves through the winter,"
reasons Johnson. "We're hoping to determine this with our field trials
as it could help us raise and stabilize our wheat acreage."
Therefore, timing seems to be a determining factor in the quest to maximize
the potential of winter wheat. Unfortunately, growers do not always have the
luxury of timing control when it comes to winter wheat planting, which follows
soybean harvest in rotations. Consequently, a delay in soybean harvest can cause
a delay in winter wheat planting, ultimately resulting in reduced yields.
This issue was very relevant to Ontario wheat producers in the fall of 2004.
Soybeans were planted late during the spring of 2004 due to weather pressures,
causing a late harvest. This delay in harvest set back winter wheat planting.
Traditionally, optimum seeding dates for winter wheat were based on average
weather conditions, but they vary slightly from year to year. Ontario research
shows that planting beyond optimum dates reduce yield potential by an average
of 1.1bu/ac per day. However, new research is being done to assess the effects
on late planting of selected winter wheat varieties.
Hyland Seeds has been performing official late planting trials at its research
farm in Nairn for a number of years. The goal of Hyland's trials is to assess
the differences in yield and disease spectrum between check plots and selected
Hyland varieties. Earlier research showed that certain Hyland varieties maintain
yields in a later fall planting situation.
"We found that Hyland varieties Warwick, Wisdom, FT Wonder and Whitby
perform better than some of the other competitive varieties in a later planted
situation," reveals Chris Vander Kant, market development specialist for
Hyland Seeds. "These varieties seem to have an advantage with higher winter
"We also found the 'black hole' phenomenon to be a moving target dependent
on weather conditions, seed size, germination rate, soil type and region."
All of these factors contribute to the success of any crop. The Hyland winter
wheat varieties are superior options for growers looking at later planting dates.
A combination of superior varieties and the results from the OMAF trials will
assist Ontario growers in maximizing the potential of winter wheat. -30-
Winter wheat planting tips by Chris Vander Kant*
- Check seed size to ensure proper seeding rate.
- Determine the proper seeding rate based on the variety grown and the date
on the calendar. Be sure to calibrate the drill and check it regularly.
- Make sure you are planting at a uniform seeding depth into moisture. Be
sure to make slight adjustments for heavy clay. The ideal target is 1.5in,
however, depth can range from one to three inches, depending on the situation.
- If planting early (i.e. beginning of September) check for aphids once the
crop emerges. Consider spraying if you are growing a variety susceptible to
- Make sure you are planting with a starter, liquid pop-up. If not an option,
mix MAP with the seed at a rate of 30 to 50 pounds per acre to promote as
much tillering as possible.
- Ensure your drill is in good condition and clean old seed out prior to planting.
- Make certain that seed trenches are closing properly and that you are not
- Avoid planting into corn stubble or other cereal crops. If unavoidable,
consider planting a fusarium tolerant variety.
- Adjust seeding rates by 10 to 15 percent higher after the beginning of October.
As these dates change, consider a variety that performs well in a late planting
situation. Remember that each geographic location is different.
- Consider more than one variety with different heading dates to spread out
work load for spraying, harvesting and general risk to disease, especially
- Select a variety that is suited for your soil type; earlier varieties on
sands, good root disease tolerance on clays.
- Contact your local seed dealer for information on the exciting line-up of
Hyland winter wheat varieties.
*Chris Vander Kant is a market development specialist with Hyland Seeds.
The Bottom Line
Rotation is so important to our crop management and having
wheat in the rotation benefits the corn and soybean crops, especially
on our soils with higher clay content. And wheat itself is our biggest
money-maker. We have given up underseeding red clover because it can cause
harvest difficulties in a bad year and we think its value is marginal.
We have been experimenting with frost seeding of spring wheat, planting
it with a no-till drill in March and this year for the first time in late
December. If we can get this right, we will have four crops: corn, soybeans,
winter wheat and spring wheat, so all the workload between fertilizer
application, spraying and harvest operations will be spread out, making
better use of our machinery.
We have a good local market for the straw with broiler, dairy and strawberry
producers nearby and the US wheat market is close to us at Buffalo. Lennie
Aarts, Wainfleet, Ontario.
The last four to five years have proven that wheat hasn't taken a back
seat to profitability relative to any crop. We should all strive to include
it in our rotation. By sticking to a good solid rotation, we can help
solve our disease issues, weed problems and soil tilth; and it could help
to increase our total wheat acreage.
If research is done that makes us more comfortable planting later in
the season and helps us to stick to our rotation… then I'm all for it.
Andy van Niekerk, Stayner, Ontario.
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