Wheat in Rotation


“It’s your Rotation calling, please continue to include Wheat!”
Including wheat in your crop rotation has always felt like ‘a good idea’.  Growers and Agronomists alike have intuitively believed this, but the specific quantifiable benefits have been difficult to completely assess.   The following information summarizes the main economic and agronomic incentives to continue to include wheat in your cash crop rotation along with corn and soybeans.

5% more Corn, and 8% more Soys!  Bill Deen with the Department of Plant Agriculture at University of Guelph rolled up his sleeves, grabbed a calculator, and studied the long term rotation trials.  He recently presented his findings to the CCA members at the Annual Conference in January.  This study concluded that over multiple years the corn crop in a farming system including wheat in the rotation proved to yield 5% more than a farming system that did not include wheat.  Similarly, the soybean crops yielded 8% more.  Using provincial averages and current market prices, this amounts to roughly $40/acre in incremental revenue to support the inclusion of wheat.  The comparisons were made against tight rotation of Corn-Corn-Soy-Soy, and Corn-Soy-Corn-Soy (more of an alternation, then a rotation).  This gain in revenue could theoretically be added as a line in the revenue column of your wheat crop when assessing the cost of production.  In addition to this raw revenue gain, there is a slight reduction in production risk.  When Deen analyzed the data, he also found that the corn and soy crops in systems that included wheat in the rotation were “never the worst” in years of extreme weather.  In years when it was hot or dry, the proper rotation produced better.  And, in years when it was cool or wet, again, the proper rotation produced better.  As our climate presents us with these extremes in weather, proper rotation reduces some of the risk.

The Cover Crop Advantage.  Including wheat in the rotation provides the opportunity to include cover crops.  In the case of winter wheat, it will act as a cover crop itself through the winter it is seeded.  Then, after harvest, you seed the cover crop in the stubble.  There are countless benefits to keeping the ground green and growing for more months of the year, and to maintain the structure and stability through the winter months.  Find the right cover crop mix to suit your soil structure goals.  Along with these physical properties, when doing the research mentioned above, Deen also concluded that adding a cover crop (he had data for red clover) to this rotation enhanced the production by another 2-3%.  Including cover crops will increase your organic matter content and improve the structure of your soil.  This is of extreme importance in a cash crop rotation that does not include bedded manure.  Increasing organic matter should be a consideration of every task in the field.  “If I go to the field and do this, how will I affect my organic matter?”  The land base in Ontario is not increasing, and it is important that we treat what we have the best we can.  Cover crops are an integral part in this.  The world will need us to increase production with sustainable intensification.

Maximizing your Man-power and Equipment resources.  Good help is hard to find, and good equipment is certainly not cheap.  When wheat is included you spread out the work load at seeding and at harvest, and this allows you to maximize your efficiency.  You can keep your skilled labour active in your efficient equipment for more hours in a year.  This will lead to a happier and more engaged workforce, and lower cost per acre for equipment.  Both of these will lead to better production and a healthier income statement.  Spreading out your work load also allows you to do your field work at a more appropriate time.  You will avoid doing seeding or harvesting at improper times.

Reducing the spread of pests.  Growing the same crop on the same field (mono-cropping) provides the opportunity for pests that threaten that crop to spread rapidly.  The pests can be insects, or diseases, or both.  Proper rotation provides a non-host for the pest and breaks the cycle, and dramatically reduces the threat.  Rotation is a natural way to prevent the build-up of pests and helps to maintain the effectiveness of the seed treatments and other fungicides growers use.
It is important to think long term when temptations arise to stray from your rotation.  Is it really worth it to interrupt the momentum of a rotation that took make years to maintain, just to be opportunistic in a single year?  Don’t get me wrong, money talks, and profit is important.  However, all of the most established and successful growers believe in the long-term that proper rotation is the most profitable practice.
These benefits can be achieved with winter wheat or spring wheat.  Other spring cereal crops (barley, oats, rye) will also provide similar rotational benefits.

Tim Meulensteen is a Sales Representative for C&M Seeds.  C&M Seeds is a family owned company that has been leading wheat seed innovation in Ontario for over 35 years.  For more information, call 1-888-733-9432, visit www.redwheat.com , or email [email protected].

Beans (soybeans or dry edible beans)Excellent rotationWhen soybean harvest is delayed, wheat planted later will have lower yield potential.On sandy soils, European chafer populations can reduce plant stands.
CanolaExcellent rotationBest option for timely plantingResponse to starter P may be greater
(silage or grain)
Highest risk of fusariumTimely planting is possible.For wheat after corn, plant a variety that is MR for fusarium (see www.gocereals.ca) and plan to apply a fungicide to prevent fusarium.
(pure stands)
Timely planting is possible.Insect damage is a concern.
Nitrogen credit is not fully utilized because of timing of N release relative to crop requirements. Up to half the N is released after crop uptake is complete.
Grass hayPoor rotationPrimary risk is take-all, a root disease that infects the crop in the fall with a potential yield loss of over 50%, and other root diseases.Later planting combined with seed-placed potash fertilizer provides some take-all suppression.
OatReasonable rotation. Few diseases cross over between wheat and oat.
BarleyNot a desired rotationMany of the root diseases cross over between barley and wheat.Later planting combined with seed-placed potash fertilizer provides some take-all suppression.
WheatWorst rotation choice (not a rotation)Leaf disease and root disease pressure will be at its maximum.Take-all, eyespot and cephalosporium stripe are at high risk with little or no management options.Expect a minimum 10% yield loss.

There is definitely a yield advantage associated with keeping wheat in a rotation. Long term data suggests that there is 5 bu/acre and 15 bu/acre in Soybean and Corn yields respectively. Watch the video below for Dr. Dave Hooker’s explanation.


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