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Cereals: Late 2014 spring caused winterkill, late crop development & replanting

December 4, 2014 - OMAFRA's Peter Johnson summarizes the 2014 growing season for cereals in Ontario.

Fall 2013 planting conditions started off well until late September. The balance of the fall seeding conditions were poor with a final 800,000 acres seeded. The majority of this wheat was planted Thanksgiving weekend, and much of the crop entered the winter in marginal conditions.

Hard red acreage slid to 7.5 per cent of the crop, from 11 per cent in 2012, as price premiums eroded due to ongoing protein issues. Soft white acreage slipped slightly to 5 per cent, from 6 per cent the year previous, leaving soft red to make up the bulk of the crop at 87.5 per cent. Winter barley continued a slow resurgence in planted acres. Spring cereal acreage shifted marginally in 2013: spring wheat 85,000 acres (flat), oat 75,000 acres (+15 per cent), barley 110,000 acres (-4 per cent) and mixed grain 90,000 acres (-10 per cent). The late spring limited any potential increase, while the demand for straw prevented significant acreage loss.

The winter of 2014 was one of the harshest in memory. Long spells of -25 C were common. A short period of above zero temperatures in early January did not melt all the snow, but was enough to solidify snow or turn it to ice. As a result, the majority of wheat acres suffered significant winterkill, and 15 per cent of planted acres were replanted to another crop. Final harvested acreage was 680,000. Even in fields that were left, 5 to 10 per cent of the acres were bare. Winterkill was a result of both low temperature injury and suffocation from a lack of oxygen. Almost all winter barley was lost. In some areas, low temperature injury resulted in stands that appeared to be worth keeping but had little vigour and poor recovery. Eastern Ontario was the exception to this situation, where wheat survival was excellent.

Spring arrived late, and crop development was delayed by 10-14 days, a delay that persisted all year. The delayed planting season resulted is some wheat fields destined for replant being left to harvest. In the south, it was mid-April before significant growth occurred, while in shorter season areas growth was delayed until May. This further aggravated replant decisions. Spring cereal planting was incredibly late, with planting occurring into the first few days of June. Barley or spring wheat was planted into some winter wheat fields, to fill in holes and weak spots.

Nitrogen applications were completed in late April and early May. Planned split applications resulted in a single application due to timing. On heavy clay soils, continued cool, damp conditions caused significant denitrification that resulted in considerable yield loss. Sulphur (S) deficiency was prevalent. The cool wet spring delayed S release from the organic matter. Yield response to applied S was significant in some fields. Manganese deficiency was common on typically deficient soils.

Winter annual or perennial weed control became “revenge spraying”. By the time growers could get into the field these weeds had already bolted and the damage was done. For the second year in a row this drove home the benefits of fall weed control. Many fields missed the window for annual weed control due to constant wet soils. Foxtail, seldom a problem weed in winter wheat, exhibited significant weed pressure in thin stands resulting in a higher than normal percentage of fields being treated with preharvest glyphosate to facilitate harvest.

Leaf disease levels remained low for much of the crop over the entire season. Isolated pockets of powdery mildew and septoria were not widespread. Cephalosporium stripe was an issue on heavy clay soils with a high frequency of wheat in the rotation. Varietal differences in resistance to Cephalosporium stripe were obvious. Physiological fleck symptoms were extreme in many fields, with cool, damp conditions reducing the amount of leaf cuticle. Rust in oat continues to be a major issue, with unsprayed fields in southwestern or eastern regions suffering tremendous yield and quality loss. Fusarium was not a major issue in 2014, although isolated fields and later harvested fields were impacted. Extreme variability in heading made timing fusarium sprays nearly impossible. Some fields suffered from severe “burn” from fusarium fungicides, with some yield impact. This injury went hand in hand with physiological fleck. Spring wheat, particularly in eastern Ontario had significant fusarium infections again, almost an annual challenge in this region.

Cereal leaf beetle (CLB) was over threshold in a number of fields from Sarnia through to London by mid-June, but these infestations were not caught in time, as this is a non-traditional area for CLB. CLB infestations occurred in the traditional hot spots, and were controlled accordingly.

Dry weather through pollination and early grain fill had a major impact on winter wheat yields in some areas. However, cool temperatures that remained throughout the growing season allowed for better yields than anticipated. In particular, spring cereal yields were tremendous, especially late planted spring cereals where yields were expected to be very poor. Low falling numbers plagued the shorter season areas in winter wheat, due to rain-delayed harvest.

Final winter wheat yields ended up slightly below trendline at 5.2 t/ha (78 bu/ac). Spring cereals yields were near records: spring wheat at 114 per cent of average at 4.0 t/ha (58.9 bu/ac), and spring cereals (barley, oat, mixed grain) at 113 per cent of average, at 3.6 t/ha (67 bu/ac barley or 95 bu/ac oats). Protein levels in HRW were good, while some HRS samples were low (high yield caused protein dilution).Extremely strong demand for straw continues, with prices generally 4 to 5 cents/pound in the swath, with some reports at much higher levels. Cover crop or forage crop acreage after wheat continued to grow, at record levels in 2014. Red clover stands were the best ever for many growers (thin wheat, cool weather). Double cut red clover was a harvest issue in many wheat fields: it was a year to grow single cut clover. Red clover response to sulphur applications have been surprising.

Fall 2014 seeding began late. Mid-September weather was ideal, and the few acres of early wheat look excellent. Some growers broadcast or aerially seeded wheat into standing soys, as the prospects for planting wheat on time were slim. Much of this broadcast wheat suffered severe stand thinning from slugs. Rain returned the last week of September, and continued right into November. The typical planting window of Thanksgiving weekend resulted in only about 60 per cent of the wheat planted into poor soil conditions. The balance of the crop was drilled in between rainstorms, with a significant portion of the crop in southwestern Ontario being planted in the first week of November. A 7 day extension to the deadline for winter kill insurance by Agricorp gave many growers the impetus to keep planting as soil conditions improved during that time.

In the end, slightly more than 600,000 acres of wheat were planted. Winter barley acres all but disappeared. The proportion of HRW acres jumped dramatically to 12 per cent, primarily due to a good price incentive . SWW increased slightly to 6 per cent, with SRW maintaining the lion’s share of acreage at 82 per cent. As of this report (written on November 24), only the earliest or best drained wheat fields look good. Most of the wheat crop has not yet emerged, and with early snow and a deluge of rain, twitter and email are buzzing with pictures of flooded wheat fields.

Despite current crop duress, it is a long way until harvest, and wheat has an amazing ability to rebound and compensate. Here’s hoping!


December 4, 2014
By Top Crop Manager

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