Wheat School: Setting up for winter wheat planting success

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Ontario’s unplanted acres hold the potential for outstanding 2020 winter wheat yields, but growers will have to manage disease risks while planting early to turn that potential into profit, says RealAgriculture agronomist Peter Johnson.

Across the province, heavy clay soils, especially in the Niagara Region and Essex County, have not been planted. Johnson has had a stream of questions from growers asking for his advice on how to manage these fields. On this episode of RealAgriculture’s Wheat School, Johnson offers one simple message: every unseeded acre is eligible for winter wheat. “The potential for high yield and awesome wheat in 2020 trumps everything else,” he says.

There are risks, yes, but Johnson feels they are manageable. Disease is certainly a concern for growers who planted winter wheat in fall 2018 and abandoned the crop after a difficult fall and equally tough spring. If the fields are not planted that would basically mean wheat would be following wheat. “That’s closer than I would like from a wheat rotation standpoint,” says Johnson. “Take-all is a big risk and the root rots (e.g. eyespot) and viral diseases (e.g. wheat streak mosaic) are also a risk.” (Story continues after the video.)

Johnson strongly believes the potential for big yields outweighs disease challenges. In this episode, he offers a number of management tips. For growers planting wheat into unplanted fields with corn stalks, it will be critical to ensure the residue is pressed down so it has contact with the ground. This will eliminate the corn stalk’s ability to carry fusarium into the following wheat crop.

“The best way to do that is to plant a cover crop,” says Johnson. He’s a big fan of oats and its ability to quickly establish a strong root system that will open up tight soils and provide beneficial organic matter. There’s also still time to seed the crop and then burn it down two weeks prior to wheat planting.

When it comes to planting, Johnson offers three key pieces of advice:

  • Use well-treated seed
  • Don’t plant “ultra early.” He encourages growers to consult the new winter wheat planting date recommendation map at gocereals.ca. He advises growers not to plant before the optimum planting date to limit fall root mass development — a key factor in managing take-all risk.
  • Put down muriate of potash (0-0-60) with the seed — 60 lb/ac of product (30 lb actual K). The key here is potassium chloride, which will help suppress take-all.

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