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Plan for Winter Cereals

By: Ken Panchuk PAg, Provincial Specialist Soils

Established winter wheat in standing canola stubble
Established winter wheat in standing
canola stubble.
The winter cereal seeding window is from the end of August in the north to the middle of September in the south. Check with your Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation office for the seeding deadlines. Even though the topsoil is dry, winter cereals should be seeded shallow during the seeding window. When the fall rains come, the crop will take advantage of that moisture to germinate quickly, establishing a stand that ensures maximum winter hardiness before freeze up. 

Listed below are some quick tips for establishing a healthy uniform stand of winter cereals:

  • The best choice is to select fields of standing stubble of canola or flax with the crop residues chopped and uniformly spread. This will help minimize the risk of transmission of wheat streak mosaic virus. If there are any green cereal plants nearby this could be a source, but with the dry conditions this fall the risk should not be that high.
  • Taller stubble is always a better choice when soil conditions are dry as the tall stubble will collect and hold the first snow to protect the winter cereal but also collect more snow to recharge the soil moisture.
  • Use a seed treatment to give the seedlings an extra edge for a rapid start as the crop is establishing into the cooler days of fall. Seed from this year’s winter cereal harvest is good for planting this fall because warm days and cooler nights will break any temporary dormancy that may be present.
  • Seed shallow, no more than one inch deep. This is a critical step because the crown needs to form near the soil surface for optimum winter survival.
  • Use starter phosphate and some potash. The phosphate ensures healthy roots and shoots under cool fall soil conditions while the potash helps optimize the winter hardiness. Do not exceed the safe rate of phosphate with the seed guidelines.
  • There are several choices for managing nitrogen needs of the winter cereals. First, focus on providing some nitrogen with or near the seed for healthy fall growth.
  • There are several fall and spring strategies for supplying the nitrogen. Products like polycoated urea can be fall applied at seeding, which will provide some fall nitrogen and protect from losses until spring. Do not compromise the seedbed; if the seedbed is dry and vulnerable to being damaged, then consider spring application options. The key is to establish a uniform stand.
  • Control winter annuals before freeze up.

For more information, check out the Winter Wheat or Western Winter Cereal Initiative website or call your nearest Regional Crops Specialist or the Agriculture Knowledge Centre at 1-866-457-2377. 

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