STRATEGIES TO MAXIMIZE SPRING WHEAT QUALITY AND YIELD
with recent memories filled with wet weather, disease and poor quality, it’s no wonder that many farmers are re-thinking their planting plans when it comes to spring wheat.
“No one can deny that growing spring wheat has been tough these past few years,” says Peter Johnson, OMAFRA Wheat Specialist, “but don’t give up on it!” Spring wheat is a valuable crop in Ontario and farmers can benefit from a rotation and marketing perspective. Although no one can control Mother Nature, there are some management strategies farmers can use to maximize their spring wheat crop for good quality and high yield.
start with the seed
The first and most important management decision a farmer can make when it comes to spring wheat is choosing the right variety, says Johnson. “It is imperative that farmers pick a fusarium tolerant variety,” he says. A great tool to help farmers choose an appropriate variety is the spring wheat performance trials. The cumulative yield index is found as an insert within this issue of the magazine and the complete trials, including fusarium data can be found at www.gocereals.ca.
plan for the rotation
Another factor to consider when planning for spring wheat is crop rotation. “From a quality standpoint, you have to stay away from previous crops that will increase fusarium risk,” says Johnson. He continues to explain that the worst crop rotation plan is planting spring wheat after corn. Fusarium loves corn, and the disease thrives in the corn stalks left over in the field and transfers to the new wheat crop. Farmers should avoid planting spring wheat after barley, wheat, and grass hay, although these are preferred to corn. Johnson emphasizes that “even when hay is 50 percent alfalfa and 50 percent grass, there is still enough grass in the field to harbor the disease.”
The best crop rotation management practice is to plant spring wheat following legumes. Soybeans, canola, and edible beans are all good options to precede spring wheat as they are not hosts for fusarium or other diseases that can affect grasses like wheat.
the early bird gets the worm
The third thing farmers need to consider when managing for high quality spring wheat is planting date. According to Johnson, “earlier planted wheat typically has higher test weight and therefore, better quality.” Of all the spring cereals, wheat benefits most from an early planting, more so than oats and barley; “spring wheat really shines when it is frost seeded,” continues Johnson.
Perhaps the most obvious management practice used to stave off disease and manage for quality is utilizing fungicides. Choosing the best available fungicide and getting the timing right can mean the difference between a successful crop and disaster.
“Through past plot trials, it is clear that Proline is the best fungicide for spring wheat,” says Johnson. He continues to explain that “Folicur doesn’t have enough punch to be really effective on spring wheat, despite its success on winter wheat.”
Although Proline and Folicur, both from Bayer CropScience are the fungicides currently available, farmers should be on the lookout for several new products that may be available soon. Caramba fungicide from BASF and a new Proline-Folicur jug mix called Prosaro, from Bayer CropScience, are currently undergoing regulatory approval and registration.
know your nozzles
Choosing the right fungicide and getting it on the field at the perfect time can all be for naught if applied with the wrong spray nozzles, emphasizes Johnson. Following OMAFRA guidelines, farmers have two options: Double nozzle forward and back with Turbo TeeJet, Flat Fan, or Air Induction Flat Fan; or Turbo FloodJet alternating forward and back with 20 inch spacing.
Although this may seem like an easily applicable management solution, Johnson says that many farmers are still using inappropriate nozzles. “In a 2008 survey of farmers doing plot work with OMAFRA, only 20 percent of people were using the correct nozzle tips.”
“Considering the wrong nozzle tip can cut the efficacy of the fungicide by 50 percent, this is simply unacceptable,” says Johnson.
The final recommendation Johnson has for farmers trying to get the best out of their spring wheat crop is to harvest early. “The worst thing a farmer can do is sit on their laurels and wait to harvest to avoid drying costs,” says Johnson.
He recommends harvesting as soon as wheat is at 18 percent moisture or as soon as the wheat can go through the combine. “The longer spring wheat sits in the field, the more things that can go wrong,” concludes Johnson.
Spring wheat has certainly been down on its luck for the past two years, but Johnson isn’t ready to give up on it. “There is no doubt that spring wheat is a crop that requires good management,” says Johnson, “but careful management and a little cooperation from Mother Nature can make growing spring wheat most worthwhile.” •