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     Tuesday, December 01, 2015

August 2008

What steps should I take in growing winter wheat?

Producers who intend to grow winter wheat should consider the undertaking as part of the whole farm operation and not in isolation.  Several management decisions and operations should be considered, including:

Get organized: Start preparing for your winter operations well before seeding starts.  Note that seeding a winter crop may coincide with harvesting operations of spring-seeded crops.  This additional fall workload is manageable if properly planned.

Know what you are doing: Obtain and review reliable production information, relevant to your area.  If you have any questions, call the Agriculture Knowledge Centre (1-866-457-2377) or Winter Cereals (1-866-472-4611).

Crop rotation: Determine where your winter wheat fits into the overall cropping sequence of your farm.  Knowing in advance which field would be seeded to winter wheat allows the farmer to plan stubble and residue management needed to ensure proper seeding and snow-trapping.

Field selection: In conjunction with crop rotation, ensure that the field selected minimizes risks from diseases, weeds (including volunteer cereals), insects, etc., while at the same time would provide maximum protection from soil erosion, moisture loss, winter damage, etc.

Weed control: Winter annuals and perennial weeds pose the greatest challenge.  Both types of weeds are best controlled in the fall.  If left until spring, they must be sprayed before bolting.  See the SA Guide to Crop Protection for recommended herbicides.  A pre-seeding glyphosate product can help break the "green bridge," which allows the wheat streak mosaic virus to persist from year to year.  Seven to 10 days without vegetative growth is required to break the cycle if planting on cereal stubble.  Avoid fields with quackgrass and downy or Japanese brome.

Seeding: This is a critical operation in winter wheat production.  It involves selecting the best variety, seeding time, seeding equipment, seed treatment, fertilizer placement, etc.

Is "stubble-in" seeding the only choice?

Due to the harsh winters in Saskatchewan, it is imperative that winter wheat is direct seeded in standing stubble to ensure sufficient snow cover.  At least eight centimetres of un-packed snow is needed to maintain winter temperatures at crown level above critical levels for winter survival.

Which stubble is best suited for winter wheat?

Canola or mustard stubble is preferred as it provides the lowest disease, insect and weed risks, and usually provides adequate stubble for trapping snow.  Barley and oat stubble may be used.  If planted on wheat stubble, disease issues become pronounced.  Dry beans, lentils and field peas have poor snow-trapping abilities and should be avoided.

Can I seed winter wheat on chem-fallow?

Yes, as long as there is enough stubble to capture and maintain sufficient snow cover.  However, this may not always be the case since the stubble becomes brittle and loses snow-trapping ability.  In a study in which 65 winter wheat fields were surveyed, the lowest average snow trapping potential (STP) of 17 was observed on chem-fallow (Fowler, 2000).  In this study, winter wheat had a high risk of winter-kill when seeded into fields or areas within fields that had a STP of less than 20, where:

STP = [stubble height (cm)  x  standing stems per m2] ÷100.

The target STP prior to seeding should be greater than 40.  Post-seeding STP should be greater than 20.  When seeding, use equipment which preserves the stubble.

How can I handle excessive crop residue prior to seeding winter wheat?

Crop residue management begins at harvest. Cut the crop at a height that would provide STP of more than 40.  Spread the straw and chaff uniformly.  Harrowing before seeding can be an effective way of spreading excess straw; however, harrowing can reduce STP.  If a hoe drill is to be used in seeding winter wheat, the straw must be well chopped and spread uniformly.  Most no-till drills should be able to seed into stubble left for snow trapping without plugging. 

What is the optimum time for seeding winter wheat?

Optimum seeding dates range from August 20 in the northeast to September 15 in the southwest corner of the province.  As a guide, the Winter Wheat Production Manual shows the optimum date for no-till seeding winter wheat into standing stubble as:

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

How late or early can I seed winter wheat?

The recommended optimum seeding dates are based on seeding dates that provide optimal growth for highest winter hardiness.  Plants should have three to four leaves with one tiller, and well developed crowns by freeze up in order to attain maximum cold tolerance and optimum energy reserves.  In general, this should be within seven to 10 days of the optimum seeding date.  Seeding too early results in excessive growth in the fall and loss of winter hardiness consequently leads to increased winter injury.  Late seeding results in poorly established plants with low winter survival potential.  Hence, both situations result in poor stands and decreased yield potential.

What is the optimum seeding rate for winter wheat?

Optimum seeding rates for winter wheat are similar to those of spring wheat.  However, because of winter mortality, the target plant populations should be between 25 and 30 to achieve a spring stand of 18-24 plants per square foot.  Base your seeding rate on seed size (thousand kernel weight - TKW), germination percentage, seedling mortality and the target plant density.  The calculation is performed as shown below:

Seeding rate (lb./ac.) = [(Plants/ft.2 x TKW g x 10) x (% Survival)]

Note that percentage survival is a product of percentage germination and mortality rate.  Seeding rate will also vary by region, but an approximate rate is two bu./acre.

What is the optimum seeding depth for winter wheat?

Shallow seeding (0.5 to one inch or 1.3 to 2.5 cm.) is generally recommended.  This ensures that the seed germinates and emerges without expending too much energy.  Ensure that the seed is in good contact with the soil.  Unlike spring seeding when farmers may seed deeper hoping to place seed in moist soil, there is no advantage gained by seeding deeper than recommended, since fall stubble soil moisture rarely increases with soil depth.  Shallow seeded winter wheat can germinate from a small amount of rainfall.  If soil is dry, shallow seeding increases the odds of germination.

Which varieties of winter wheat are best suited for my area?

Refer to the Saskatchewan Seed Guide for the best varieties for your area.  Choose a variety that would provide you with the best yield and resistance to lodging, winter damage, stem rust, leaf rust and bunt.  When selecting varieties, marketing should also be considered.  The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) has a Market Development Contract Program for selected varieties - contact the CWB for more information.

How much fertilizer should I apply in winter wheat?

Apply nutrients based on soil test recommendations using a reasonable target yield.  Previous soil test results from that field can be used as a guideline for Phosphorus (P) and Potassium (K), but a current soil test is the best tool for determining the amount of Nitrogen (N) required.  Expected price of winter wheat and fertilizer should also be considered for determining economic fertilizer application rates.

Which N fertilizers can I use in winter wheat?

Commonly available forms of nitrogen are: urea (46-0-0); liquid urea ammonium nitrate (28-0-0); anhydrous ammonia (82-0-0); and ammonium sulphate (21-0-0-24).  For details on the characteristics and usage of these fertilizer options, see Nitrogen Fertilization and Guidelines for Safe Rates of Fertilizer applied with the Seed.

Can I broadcast N and P fertilizers in winter wheat?

Phosphate fertilizer must be banded with, or very near, the seed to be effective.  The higher the amount of N placed with seed, the higher the risk of seedling damage and winter-kill.  Side or mid-row banding of N gives the best results both in terms of protecting the seedling from toxicity and salt effect and increasing N use efficiency.  Generally, fall broadcasting N results in increased risk of losses of N to the environment.  If seeding is done with double shoot openers, don't sacrifice seedbed quality for fertilizer placement.  There are several effective methods of applying N early in the spring.

What is the optimum timing for applying N fertilizer in winter wheat?

Winter wheat growers like to assess their winter wheat fields for winter-kill in early spring before applying the N fertilizer.  Whatever the case, ensure that the N fertilizer is applied by early spring for optimum results using soil test recommendations.  Side banding or mid-row banding all the N fertilizer in the fall is one option and early spring application using one of several methods is another option, for managing fertility in winter cereals.  Logistically, winter wheat should be fertilized prior to spring seeding to avoid conflict with seeding operations.

Can I spray my winter wheat in the fall?

Pre-seeding weed control, including pre-harvest management with a glyphosate product is an effective control measure for biennial and perennial weeds.  There are no herbicides recommended for fall post-emergent application to winter wheat with the exception of Sencor for downy brome control and bromoxynil based products.  Low rates of 2,4-D for broadleaf winter annual weed control can be applied safely (Fowler, 1987).  Recommendations out of the U.S.A. suggest that 2,4-D can only be used in the fall if winter wheat is sufficiently tillered.  Research conducted in 2001 by the Western Australian Department of Agriculture shows that: 1) there is great varietal variability in the level of sensitivity of wheat to phenoxy herbicides; 2) even the very low rates of phenoxy herbicides applied prior to tillering can result in high yield losses; and 3) wheat exhibits a range of tolerance to the different phenoxy products with 2,4-D causing more injury than MCPA and ester formulations causing greater losses than amine formulations (Newman and Nicholson, 2001).  Research conducted at the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada station in Lethbridge, found that late application of phenoxy herbicides increased the amount of winter-kill (Freyman and Hamman, 1979).  Canadian labels recommend spring application only, and many indicate NOT to apply in the fall.  As a result, the optimum time to treat winter annual broadleaf weeds in winter wheat is as early in the spring as feasible when both winter wheat and winter annual weeds have begun to grow.


AB Ag. 1998.  Fact Sheet on Direct Seeded Winter Wheat.
D. B. Fowler, 2000.  Winter Wheat Production Manual.
D. B. Fowler, 1987.  Winter wheat research in Saskatchewan - Progress Report 1986 - 1987.
MB Ag. 2001.  Field Crop Production Guide.
MB Ag. 2004.  Fact Sheet on Winter Wheat - Production and Management.
P. Newman and D. Nicholson, 2001.  Phenoxy herbicide tolerance of wheat.
SAF 1987.  Guide to Farm Practice in Saskatchewan.
SAF 2001.  Fact Sheet on Guidelines for safe rates of fertilizer applied with the seed.
SAF 2005.  Fact Sheet on Nitrogen Fertilization.
SAF 2006.  Guide to Crop Protection.
SAF 2006.  Varieties of Grain Crops.
S. Freyman and W. M. Hamman, 1979.  Effect of phenoxy herbicides on cold hardiness of winter wheat.  Can. J. Pl. Sci. 59: 237-240.

For more information, contact:
Saskatchewan Agriculture
Agriculture Knowledge Centre
Call 1-866-457-2377


Related Links

Information that can help estimate the income and cost of production for different crops on summer fallow and stubble in the various soil zones in the province.

Provides information on application rates to be used when fertilizer is being applied with the seed.

Guide to Crop Protection provides information on the use of herbicides, fungicides and insecticides for control of weeds, plant diseases and insects.

Nitrogen fertilizers are most effectively used as part of a balanced fertilization plan that aims to maximize economic return and maintain environmental quality.

Provides information on the relative yields for the different growing regions in the province and production information on the crops, including a list of seed distributors.

The Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) is a farmer-controlled organization that markets wheat and barley grown by western Canadian producers.

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