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Winter wheat can be an option for unseeded acres

Making the best of a bad situation, several options exist for farmers with unseeded acres heading into late June. These could include generating cash flow with green feed, de-watering the land with a crop like flax or clover that would be terminated before the winter, or chemfallowing throughout the summer to prepare land for winter wheat. “It is hard to say what will happen this year, but after 2010, the experience of many farmers was that maybe instead of trying to seed too late, they could chemfallow the land and seed to winter wheat,” says Kevin Hardy, a Ducks Unlimited winter wheat specialist at Yorkton, Saskatchewan. 


November 30, 1999
By Bruce Barker

Topics

Making the best of a bad situation, several options exist for farmers with unseeded acres heading into late June. These could include generating cash flow with green feed, de-watering the land with a crop like flax or clover that would be terminated before the winter, or chemfallowing throughout the summer to prepare land for winter wheat. “It is hard to say what will happen this year, but after 2010, the experience of many farmers was that maybe instead of trying to seed too late, they could chemfallow the land and seed to winter wheat,” says Kevin Hardy, a Ducks Unlimited winter wheat specialist at Yorkton, Saskatchewan. 

Information from Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) shows that by the fourth week of May, spring-seeded cereals, peas and corn yields have dropped to 85 percent of normal yield potential, although sunflower, canola, corn, soybean and edible beans will not have lost a lot of yield potential, to that point. By June 20, the typical crop insurance seeding deadline for most cereals, oilseeds and green feed crops (check crop insurance guidelines), the yield potential has dropped off drastically, falling to around 60 percent of normal yield potential for most crops.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) cereals specialist Pam de Rocquigny says every farmer dealing with wet land has to pencil out the best options for their farming operation, and consider crop insurance contracts. “Go back and look at your cost of production and see if seeding a crop would still be profitable based on reasonable yield expectations at that time of year. Also decide what the purpose of the cropping plan is,” explains de Rocquigny. “Is it to de-water the soil by drying it out with an annual crop, generating some cash flow this year, or to prepare it for winter wheat?”

If the choice is made to prepare the land for winter wheat, farmers need to consider additional factors to reduce risk and maximize production.

Keep the stubble up
Overwinter survival is dependent on stubble holding four inches of snow, or more. That means trying to preserve as much stubble as possible with chemfallow, leaving the previous year’s stubble untouched.

Information from Ducks Unlimited cautions that chemfallow stubble can be fragile, and that spraying and seeding operations should minimize the number of trips over the field. Some weeds could be left to grow and be controlled with glyphosate prior to seed set, as tall weed carcasses can help to trap snow. However, vegetative weeds that do not develop tall upright stems can fall over and decompose, causing seeding problems. Narrow seed openers are also recommended when seeding.

Seed early, but not too early
With chemfallow land potentially ready for seeding anytime in August, the temptation can be to seed early and get the job out of the way before harvest begins. Seeding too early, though, can contribute to disease problems and loss of overwinter hardiness.

Seeding in mid-August or earlier increases the chance of winter kill because the crown and cells within the crown become very large and susceptible to freezing, says de Rocquigny. Excessive growth leaves plants more susceptible to disease as well. “Early seeding means the plants go too vegetative and use up too much of their reserves,” she explains.
Hardy agrees and says seeding to produce a plant with three to four leaves and a fully developed crown will improve overwinter survival. Across most of the Prairies, the optimal seeding window is September 1 to September 15. The exceptions are the Peace Region of Alberta (August 15 to 20 is the targeted seeding date) and the Chinook Belt of southern Alberta, where producers can seed into late September.

The other risk of seeding too early, says Hardy, is wheat streak mosaic infection of winter wheat. The wheat curl mite transmits the disease and can move from an immature cereal crop to the winter wheat. Neither the wheat streak mosaic virus nor the wheat curl mite can be controlled by pesticides, so the mite life cycle must be disrupted to prevent transmission of the disease.

The mite cannot survive longer than 10 days, so breaking the “green bridge” between spring and fall cereals is critical for control, as is controlling volunteer cereals and regrowth for at least two weeks prior to seeding winter wheat on chemfallow.

Keep an eye on soil fertility
With many different scenarios, from land that has sat idle for two growing seasons to land that was too wet to seed for the first time in 2011 (and everything in between), the best advice on fertilizer programs is to approach nitrogen (N) fertility with caution, and use normal phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) programs. “Go with the tried and true approach of applying phosphorus and potash in the fall with the seed, or as close to the seed as possible, and then broadcast nitrogen in the early spring,” explains Hardy. 

Typically, seed-placing 30 lbs of P2O5 per acre is recommended to increase winter hardiness and recovery from winter injury. Maintenance amounts of nutrients such as sulphur, potassium and copper are required.

Both de Rocquigny and Hardy recommend soil testing to confirm N soil levels, especially since N could have leached deeper into the soil or been lost to the atmosphere under the water-logged conditions of 2010. Or N availability could be similar to chemfallow land, where N levels can be high. Soil testing in the late fall will provide a snapshot of available soil-N levels and may be more easily done than a soil test in early spring. “A late fall soil test will allow a grower to make a nitrogen fertilizer decision quickly in the spring without waiting for soil test results,” says de Rocquigny.

Delaying N application until the early spring also helps growers assess winter wheat survival, reducing the risk of fall-applied N to a crop that might not make it through the winter.

Crop insurance considerations
Farmers should be aware of their provincial crop insurance coverage, seeding dates and eligible stubble. For example, de Rocquigny explains that MASC’s definition of “eligible stubble” is from a crop that is harvested in the same year that the winter wheat is seeded, with that stubble not having been disturbed by cultivation. To qualify for a Stage 1 indemnity, winter wheat can only be sown into an eligible stubble of tame hay, tall fescue seed, canola, rapeseed, barley, wheat, oats, mixed grain, triticale, flax, mustard, fall rye, canary seed, ryegrass seed, timothy seed, alfalfa seed, hemp, sunflowers, corn, borage, millet, coriander, sorghum, sudan grass or buckwheat.

If winter wheat is not seeded into eligible stubble (including summerfallow), it will not qualify for a Stage 1 indemnity (prior to June 20) and is only eligible for a reseed benefit (25 percent of coverage). However, winter wheat sown into non-eligible stubble that establishes and suffers an insurable loss after June 20 (Stage 2) is eligible for 100 percent coverage.

Growers should also note their seeding deadlines for crop insurance coverage. MASC covers crops seeded between August 20 and September 15. An extended seeding date of September 16 to September 20 will see the coverage reduced by 20 percent. 

Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation guidelines require winter wheat to be seeded by September 15 in order to be eligible for winter-kill coverage, although this option must be declared by August 25.

Alberta’s Agriculture Financial Services Corporation insures winter wheat with a seeding deadline of September 30 for land south of the Bow River and September 20 for land north of the Bow River. 

For all crop insurance, growers are advised to consult their local insurance agent for full details on coverage.