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Winter wheat pays returns

Winter wheat will pay dividends for the attention you pay to it.


November 15, 2007
By Les Kletke

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42aPaul Parent grows winter wheat for pedigreed seed on the family farm at St.
Joseph, Manitoba, and it has provided a good return through the years.

The family business has grown from a seed plant his father started to provide
winter employment to become a major exporter of pulse crops. Today the firm
exports some of its pedigreed winter wheat to the US. "We sell some Falcon
seed to Montana where they grow it under irrigation and with 160 pounds per
acre of nitrogen," says Parent. "It stands up and gives them a good
return even with those kind of inputs."

Parent does not use the same level of inputs on his farm in southern Manitoba
but his management is a step up from the methods many growers use to treat the
crop. He has tried most varieties of winter wheat and for now has settled on
Falcon as the one that fits his production regime. "We have grown Harrier,
Clare, Kestrel and McClintock," he says of the most recent offerings. "They
are all a little later and have more straw. For us in this area, Falcon is the
best fit."

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In the seed business when changing from one crop to another means a total cleaning
of harvest equipment, it is important that the crop be ready early. "The
others were ready at the same time as the hard spring varieties, Falcon is ready
two weeks earlier," he says adding, "We are combining it about the
same time that other fellows are combining barley." The Parents have taken
barley out of their production since the switch to winter wheat.

He does not discredit the other varieties, but Parent recommends growers become
familiar with the traits of the individual varieties and choose the one best
for their circumstance. He likes Falcon's resistance to fusarium which is a
serious concern in the Red River valley. "It has always been under one
percent fusarium and that is critical to us in the seed business, but also important
to anyone who is feeding the wheat," he says.

He says that normal rotation is to have the crop follow canola, "for the
stubble to hold snow and to break the disease cycle," says Parent.

In the fall of 2003, he broke with his own guidelines and seeded the crop on
edible bean stubble (or lack thereof). "We put in a quarter of winter wheat
on bean stubble to try and hold the ground," he says. "We know that
we didn't have the stubble there to catch the snow but we were more concerned
about it as a conservation measure."

The crop did well and was the farm's highest yielding winter wheat. The winter
wheat on oats stubble yielded 84 bushels per acre, the fields on canola stubble
were in the 90s, while the quarter section on bean ground broke 100 bushels
per acre. The farm average yield was 87 bushels per acre on 800 acres.

Parent seeds the crop heavy, using two bushels an acre of seed. He seeds with
an air-seeder and uses knives at 7.5 inches. "We used to use sweeps but
went to the narrow knives for seed placement because it made for less disruption
of the stubble. We want to leave as much stubble standing to trap snow,"
he says.

He has only seeded the crop on bean land once, that was the fall of 2003, and
he says the crop was in early enough and got growing so that it provided enough
cover to trap snow. He does not recommend that as a regular practice, preferring
to have stubble from the previous crop like canola.

He puts 40 pounds of phosphate down with the seed and broadcasts the nitrogen
in the spring. "We try to get on as soon as possible and we use a stable
form of nitrogen like 34-0-0," says Parent. He applies 120 pounds of actual
N on the crop.

While the crop is a hardy competitor, Parent pays special attention to weed
problems, for two reasons. The year of winter wheat gives him the opportunity
to control wild oats and he likes to get it out of the crop because of the competition
problems; it also allows him to control any wild oats problems before they become
a concern in the pedigreed seed business.

He adjusts his broadleaf weed control program to address any specific problems
that may be developing in a field. The budget calls for a treatment of Folicur
to control disease problems. "We might get away without it the occasional
year, but we count on it in the budget," he says. "That is a common
practice on our wheats."

Parent believes that prevention is better than looking for a cure and rotates
to a crop other than cereals after winter wheat. "There is the potential
for a problem like yellow streak mosaic with having a cereal crop follow winter
wheat," he says. "The crop has been there for two winters with the
growth and the stubble, we like to remove the possible host." -30-

The Bottom Line

A flexible crop rotation is critical, and a plan 'B' should always be in your
back pocket.

The late harvest and wet conditions drastically decreased winter wheat plantings
in 2004.

While controlling wild oats is a high priority in the seed production business,
a winter wheat crop allows farmers to include crop competition as another weed
control weapon. A heavy reliance on Group 1 herbicides in spring wheat production
has led to serious herbicide resistance issues. Many winter wheat growers manage
to get away with only a broadleaf herbicide in the spring, reducing selection
pressure and cost. John Waterer, Winnipeg, Manitoba.