The ideal set up for winter wheat is plating in mid-September at about half an inch deep with starter fertilizer. Then it rains and the crop grows to three leaves plus one tiller, then gets covered in a cozy blanket of snow, where it stays until it warms up in the spring. Reality, however, often means seeding into mud or dust, plants that are too big or not emerged at all, too little snow, a February melt or a drown-out in the spring.
Despite all of that, winter wheat is one tough crop, and Terry Buss, farm production advisor with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Intiatives, says that the crop yields well and can be very profitable even when seeding or wintering conditions were not ideal. While an optimal plant stand is somewhere around 20-30 plants per square foot, stands with as few as seven or eight can still produce a very respectable yield.
Farmers across Western Canada are warming back up to winter wheat, after several wet years chewed into acres. As acres increase, questions about winter hardiness, fertility management and more spring back up.
As with any crop that spends the winter outside, there’s always a concern in the spring that the crop didn’t make it. As Buss explains in this episode of the Wheat School, simply seeing green as you check out fields isn’t necessarily a good indication of winter survival. There is no replacement for simply digging up plants and growing them out inside (if it’s early in the season) or digging them up and looking for new growth. Buss also explains when the ideal timing for spring N application is, and offers his reasoning on why it’s best to go in early, even if the stand looks a little rough.
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