Wheat harvest update: drying costs outweigh risks of leaving the crop out


Harvest weather and the forecast have not been kind to Ontario’s wheat growers, and calls are coming in from several counties looking for advice on what to do with a stranded wheat crop.

Joanna Follings, cereal specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says that a few oddities are showing up in fields that were drought stressed early in the season.

The early spring thaw did encourage early growth of the wheat crop, but with little to zero moisture in May and early June some fields had early maturing areas, especially on knolls or sandy areas. The issue now is that the rain has returned in abundance and farmers are struggling to find a window to harvest the crop. Follings says that these drought-affected areas are beginning to sprout with all this moisture.

The trouble there is that sprouting — which can be invisible — will significantly downgrade a sample quickly by reducing the falling number. Ideally, falling number should stay above 300, with a bottom end of 250 for usability as milling wheat. Follings says that prior to all this rain, samples had come in with strong falling numbers well above 300.

The other concern with wheat left out post-maturity is DON accumulation. Thankfully, fusarium infection appears to have been relatively low this season, and Follings says that farmers were diligent in applying fungicide at T3 timing which should offer good protection through to maturity. Initial samples are showing low levels of FDK (fusarium damaged kernels), but secondary growth of DON production on the head is possible.

Rained on mature wheat also loses test weight with each rain event, she adds.

Follings encourages farmers to scout fields specifically for fusarium signs and sprouting, and to take moisture samples. Even a small break in the weather will mean getting the combine rolling in the highest-risk fields and paying for drying. The cost of drying down from 17.5 pre cent is about $10/tonne, she says, and that’s well worth preserving the quality and downgrade risk.

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