A Fall for the History Books!

Growing concern about the condition of the wheat crop heading into winter

This fall has been one of the toughest on quite some time. Persistent rainfall made fall wheat planting and soybean harvest extremely challenging for many areas across the province. Some regions were able to seed winter wheat at the tail end of September and into early October while others unfortunately never caught a break. The Wheat Team has been receiving lots of questions lately regarding the condition of the wheat crop. Generally, September planted wheat is some of the nicest in the countryside, however this year there are lots of tough looking September stands. Growers are even questioning if theses stands will make it through the winter and be viable next spring.

Joanna Follings, OMAFRA Cereal Specialist provided her expertise based on what she is seeing in the fields.

“While some folks are still experimenting with frost seeding and later planting dates, most of the winter wheat seeding is now wrapped up in the province with just over 710,000 acres seeded. While the snow has come for some, wherever possible now is a good time to get out and walk your wheat fields and conduct some stand evaluations before we get well into winter.

When making stand evaluations there are a few things we want to be focusing on.  The first is our emergence and seeding rate. How many plants have actually emerged? Are there areas of the field with little to no emergence? These are areas of the field we want to make note of and assess early in the spring once temperatures warm and things begin to green up. In some cases, seed may have not emerged but if it was able to germinate it will vernalize and emerge in the spring.  However, if the seed stayed saturated for long periods of time, it may no longer be viable.  Ask yourself, what portion of the field do these areas represent?  If it is less than 10% of the field, then considerations should be made to keep the stand. A spring cereal or a cover crop such as red clover should be seeded in these poor areas of the field to reduce soil erosion and weed pressure.

Another item to make note of is the weeds that were present this fall.  Many were not able to make fall weed control applications so early spring control will be critical in thin stands. Ensure that you are making note of weeds such as chickweed and fleabane and consider control of these species as early as possible as they become difficult to control the bigger they get.

There are also many reports of purpling, yellowing and even brown wheat in the province.  There are a few factors that may be contributing to this with the biggest factor being saturated soils. When soils are cool and wet for long periods of time it can have an impact on phosphorus uptake and root development. In these fields consider digging up plants in different areas and have a look at the roots. You may notice that in poorly drained areas of the field the root development is poor compared to the well drained areas. If there is still green leaf tissue and the crowns appear to have little or no damage the plants should still be viable and will resume growth once temperatures warm in the spring. While it can be very difficult to do, the best thing we can do is be patient and keep track of those challenging areas and be prepared to adjust our management.” Concludes Follings.

Picture One
Picture two

Examine the two photos above. Both were taken from the same field 30 feet apart. This particular field was planted September 20 on well tiled clay in Huron County. Picture one is taken from an area with very little compaction or water saturation. Picture two was taken from an area with more compaction and water saturation. As you can see, the growth between plants is significantly different which presents its own set of challenges in terms of management next spring. However, from the road the wheat in picture two looks dead because its brown and purple. When you look closer there is new leaf growth and the roots and crown appear to be healthy.

Please do not write your wheat crop off just yet. Next spring, field assessments are going to be extremely important to determine how the stand made it through the winter. Every field situation will be different and management options will vary from operation.

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