Making a case for spring cereals in Ontario

In Ontario, spring cereals such as wheat, oats, and barley are often viewed as the poor cousin of winter wheat, a crop that annually flirts with the one million acre mark in the province.

In general, acreage for spring cereals has been flat or declining for the past decade, but Agronomy Advantage agronomist Deb Campbell believes the spring-seeded crops will pay if growers managed them more like winter wheat. “If we can apply that winter wheat thinking to spring grains, instead of looking at 70 to 80 bushel yield potential, let’s look at 120 bushel potential,” she says.

At the recent CerealSmart 2020 Conference at Kitchener, Ont., Campbell offered growers tips on how best to get higher yields and greater returns from spring cereals. It starts with seeking out new genetics. Declining acres, however, usually translates to less genetic development, making it tougher for spring cereals to compete with other Ontario crops.

But there are new genetics available and it’s important for growers to test them and see how they respond to field conditions, says Campbell. “With new genetics comes improved agronomics and that’s part of yield gain. We can push those and be competitive from a cereal production standpoint.” (Story continues after the video.)

Campbell believes there’s also plenty of potential in pushing nitrogen rates. She says increasing N rates from 30 lb per acre to 90 and even 120 lb will deliver significant and profitable yield gains — and there’s research data to support it. She notes that some regions of the province show better returns than others. Lodging is a concern, yes, but new genetics with better lodging scores can mitigate that risk.

Campbell feels plant growth regulators (PGR) could play an important role in supporting higher yields. “If we are going to push nitrogen, we need to account for lodging and PGRs fit into that strategy to optimize grain fill and keep the crop standing.”

Fungicides are another part of the yield equation. With less genetic development growers often have to utilize older varieties that have less disease tolerance. “We can make up for that with a fungicide,” says Campbell. She notes that growers can typically see a six to seven bushel per acre yield response to a fungicide application, whereas with barley, growers can see a 15 to 20 bushel response.

“We’ve done a tremendous effort on winter wheat management and raising awareness of response to management… and the response from spring cereals is as good or even better,” says Campbell.

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