Blog: The Wheat Sheaf

Lend a helping hand, or crop, to your neighbour

winter wheat
By: Paul Thoroughgood, Agonomist, Western Winter Wheat Initiative

For those of us who carried out our plan to plant winter wheat last fall there are many rewards this season such as less ground to cover during spring seeding, another tool to manage grassy weed resistance on our farm, early harvest, and likely avoidance of pests such as wheat midge and diseases such as fusarium head blight.

Dr. Brian Beres, an agronomy researcher from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada Lethbridge, spoke at FarmTech this winter regarding fusarium management. A few of his comments included:

  • Fusarium is likely here to stay
  • It will take several dry years to reduce inoculum loads
  • Fungicides can help treat the problem, but are not the cure
  • It is mind boggling why more growers are not switching some cereal acreage to winter wheat as part of their fusarium management plan

You can’t attend a farm meeting this year without talking about fusarium. While winter wheat isn’t immune to the challenges of fusarium it does usually have an advantage of flowering prior to the climatic conditions conducive to high levels of infection. Experienced winter wheat growers know that either fusarium isn’t an issue (my area) or can be managed (eastern prairies). Unfortunately, many of our non-winter wheat growing neighbours are stuck in the spring crop paradigm and can’t see the solution that is growing right in front of them.

Be a good neighbour. I challenge you to help three non-winter wheat growing neighbours successfully grow winter wheat on their farm.

Taking up this challenge isn’t just about successfully seeding in the fall. Historically, seeding shallow into a sometimes dry seed bed, managing seeding and harvest simultaneously, fertility management, and timely weed control were the predominant challenges. Today, I contend that marketing winter wheat is the biggest obstacle. With winter wheat being a smaller acreage crop, demand can be a challenge in traditional markets. The large grain handlers sometimes have competitive bids and are willing to take delivery of winter wheat, but at other times growers need to seek out alternate markets. Small domestic millers and local feed/ethanol markets have made many winter wheat growers considerable money this year.

Helping our neighbours learn the subtleties of marketing winter wheat versus spring wheat and durum could be the difference in realizing net income from winter wheat equal to their spring cereals versus taking home a considerable profit.

Take up the challenge – be a good neighbour – help three neighbours experience the advantages of having winter wheat on their farm this year!

Paul Thoroughgood is an agronomist for the Western Winter Wheat Initiative. A grain farmer himself, Paul chose winter wheat as a career focus because he believes it is a crop that has the potential to change agriculture across the Prairies.

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