Winter wheat acres in Western Canada have fallen by half over the last five years. According to Statistics Canada, just over 1.3 million acres of winter wheat were seeded in the fall of 2011, while only 635 thousand acres were planted in the fall of 2015 (see the chart below).
Canola harvest timing and weather conditions leading into early September certainly factor into how many winter wheat acres are seeded from one year to the next, but in the long-term, there’s also work to be done in the area of market development and research, says the winter wheat technical specialist at the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) in Winnipeg.
Akriti Sharma’s position at Cigi was created in 2014 with grower checkoff funding through the Alberta Wheat Commission, the Saskatchewan Winter Cereals Development Commission and Winter Cereals Manitoba.
As she explains in the video above, she’s working on a strategy for growing and marketing the winter wheat class. The goal is to get to the point where there’s a critical mass of production to justify logistical and end-use commitments, making it worthwhile for elevators to set bins aside for winter wheat and for overseas customers to keep their mills running on a consistent supply. This would ultimately give prairie farmers incentive to plant more winter wheat.
“One of the things we’re looking at trying to do is have a pilot project be carried out through one of the grain companies and then have an end-user work with us and give us live feedback,” she explains.
Cigi aims to foster communication throughout the winter wheat value chain and help set the direction for promoting the class, notes Sharma — “something that will steer our ship a little better.”
Compared to the well-established markets and research programs for the flagship CWRS class, there’s plenty of potential for the winter class, she says. “It’s like a start-up. It really is, and it’s in an early stage.”