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Practicing patience key when making winter wheat decisions this spring

The best thing you can do for your winter wheat crop this spring is to practice some patience.

With the less than average snowfall in many areas on the Prairies this winter, producers may be wondering how their fall-seeded crop will fair. But agronomy experts from the Western Winter Wheat Initiative (WWWI) say it's better to wait before making any decisions of the fate of the crop.

"As the weather gets warmer, winter wheat needs time to properly recover. It's best to wait until spring seeding is half done before deciding what to do with the crop," says Paul Thoroughgood, regional agrologist for the WWWI. "Winter wheat has a tremendous capacity to tiller. Plant populations that would be unacceptable for spring wheat can produce a profitable yield in winter wheat."

Those who planted winter wheat last fall understand how great it fits in cropping rotations and with the new varieties that are available, along with improved agronomic practices, it is one of the highest performing and highest returning crops on the Prairies right now.

To get a better sense of how the winter wheat crop survived the winter, producers are encouraged to do a spring assessment around mid-to-late May. Assessing the crop condition too early in the spring is difficult as brown leaf material may not be a sign of winterkill and green leaves may not mean the crop has survived. The best way to properly assess individual plants is to examine the plant crown and looking for new, white, root growth.

"Dig up several plants at various locations across the field," says Thoroughgood. "The crowns should then be placed on a moist paper towel in a warm room for about a week. A damaged crown will turn brown, while a healthy crown system will be white in colour and will produce new white roots."

To get an idea of the worst case scenario, take small plants from areas with the poorest snow cover, he says. If these plants survive, the rest should be fine.

"Winterkill on the Canadian Prairies is at the same rate as Kansas - the largest winter wheat-growing state in the U.S. - around nine per cent," says Thoroughgood. "When you look at it like that, Prairie growers shouldn't be too concerned coming out of a winter like the one we just had."

For more information, watch WWWI's video on how to do a proper spring assessment at or visit for further details.

The Western Winter Wheat Initiative is a collaboration between industry members who support a sustainability model for Canada's agricultural landscapes. The purpose of this initiative is to build awareness and credibility of winter wheat as a highly productive crop option for western Canadian farmers.


April 23, 2015  By Western Winter Wheat Initiative


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