My Winter Wheat is Written Off — Now What?


While winter wheat is a darn hardy crop — just 15 plants per sq. foot growing in the spring can reach a very respectable yield potential — there are times when crops just don’t make it through.

The southwest corner of Manitoba is reporting some winter wheat issues, and crop insurance adjusters are out evaluating yield potential of the crop. As always, it’s rarely one factor that causes grief — some fields only germinated this spring but seedlings died off, other fields have nothing but mushy seeds left. A long, cool spring conducive to slow growth and disease incidence is likely to blame.

If Crop Insurance has written off the crop, what’s a farmer to do? It’s getting into late May, there is sporadic plant growth and weeds and fertilizer down…how do you make the most of it? Pam de Rocquigny, cereal specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives says there are several things to consider between taking out the existing stand, as meager as it may be, disease considerations and even fertilizer rates to consider.

“A really ugly stand or one where there’s really nothing there makes the decision a little easier,” she says. But if there are some winter wheat plants growing, it’s important to spray out or till down this green material as it may provide the “green bridge” that wheat streak mosaic virus requires to stay viable. Farmers choosing to seed spring wheat on theses fields need to be particularly vigilant about this.

“Spring wheat seems to be the crop of choice, even at this late date, as then it’s like growing wheat on canola,” de Rocquigny says. The alternatives — short season canola, flax or soybeans, for example, all carry pitfalls. If farmers have already applied all the nitrogen required for the failed winter wheat crop, soil levels are too high for flax and essentially wasted on a soybean crop. Canola seems like a good option, unless of course the winter wheat was put on canola stubble, in which case your growing canola/canola…not good.

“The decision to re-seed and what to seed the land back to really does have to be made on a field by field basis,” she says.

Seeding the last week of May or the first week of June is rarely ideal, of course, and de Rocquigny notes that for farmers with or without crop insurance looking to make a decision on winter wheat viability, it may be best to help nurse along a less than ideal winter wheat stand vs. re-seeding. “If you’ve got at least 15 healthy, growing winter wheat plants (per sq. ft.), and it looks OK, you may be better off to treat that crop with a little more TLC (than take it out),” she says.

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