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Consider Winter Wheat

Cory Jacob, PAg, Regional Crops Specialist, Watrous

August 2017

It can be tough to think about next year’s crop before this one is in the bin, but winter wheat is well worth growing. It spreads out the spring and fall workloads, though planting winter wheat is likely to overlap with harvest. Planning and organization will help to do both operations at the same time. Winter wheat takes advantage of early season moisture and is competitive with winter annual or other early emerging weeds. Since winter wheat germinates in the fall, this gives it a head start the following spring. One advantage is the crop is often at a growth stage past the susceptible stages for some pests including wheat midge and fusarium head blight.  

Winter wheat is best planted into canola stubble, which due to its height catches snow to insulate the crop during the winter. Canola stubble also offers the lowest risk of disease, weeds and insects as compared to seeding into cereal crop stubble. Pea stubble is also suitable as long as some canola or cereal stubble is present from past years. Seeding dates are based on location within the province and range from late August to mid-September. Seeding should occur within seven to 10 days of the optimum seeding dates which include:

  • August 27 – Meadow Lake/Prince Albert/Nipawin areas

  • August 30 – North Battleford/ Saskatoon/Wynyard/Yorkton areas

  • September 3 – Kindersley/Swift Current areas

  • September 6 – Maple Creek/Estevan areas

It should also be noted that September 15 is the deadline to seed fall rye and winter wheat to be eligible for winterkill insurance through the Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation (SCIC).

Due to some winter mortality, target plant populations should be between 25 to 30 plants per square foot to achieve a crop stand of 18 to 24 plants per square foot. Winter wheat has a very short coleoptile, which is an extension of the seed embryo that pushes its way through the soil surface, from which the first leaf develops. Winter wheat must be seeded within half an inch to one inch deep, similar to canola seeding depths. If seeded too deep, the winter wheat may not be able to push through the soil. 

The optimal overwintering plant stage is three to four leaves with one tiller. Seeding too early or too late can produce plants that maybe too large or small and will reduce winter hardiness and overall survival, which will impact yield. A minimum of about four inches of unpacked snow cover is needed to keep the crown above critical temperatures to ensure survival.

Proper and effective fall weed control to manage winter annual and perennial weeds will also provide a competitive advantage to the crop in the spring. As winter wheat emerges before the snow melts, it should be at a competitive advantage against emerging summer annual weeds. The larger winter wheat plants are able to establish a large root mass for uptake of moisture and nutrients. As well, these larger plants are taller and have a larger leaf area, which means more plant material to intercept sunlight for photosynthesis. When coupled with proper and effective fall weed control, winter wheat will suffer minimal yield loss due to weed competition.

Growing winter wheat may also help to throw weeds off balance as they adjust themselves to our farming practices. Annual weeds will adapt and flourish in fields where annual crops are grown (wild oats in wheat). While winter annual weeds will grow well in fields grown to winter cereals (cleavers in winter wheat) and perennial weeds increase in fields where perennial crops are grown (dandelions in alfalfa). The fall seeding date and early harvest of winter wheat will help to control annual weeds in crop rotations and keep them off balance from adjusting our farming practices.    

With proper care and cooperation from Mother Nature, winter wheat can produce well, be profitable, spread out spring and fall workloads and may strengthen you integrated pest management plan.

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