Ontario wheat harvest looks optimistic

Warm spring temperatures moved the crop along nicely, although a cool late May slowed it down

Warm temperatures followed by cooler temperatures have averaged out the wheat crop harvest timeline.

The 2021 Ontario winter wheat crop is ahead of schedule and shows promising development.

Tim Meulensteen, an agronomist with C&M Seeds in Palmerston, Ont., said two dynamics are at play; early planting last fall and a gentle winter with consistent snowmelt in March.

Why it matters: An early wheat crop can quickly mature and be ready before farmers are. 

Weather this spring has also helped the crop. Near the end of March, Ontario started to accumulate heat, followed by a cool week and then hot days in April. 

“That was when we really started to see the green up. We all thought we were staring at something that was two to three weeks ahead of normal at that stage, just the way the growth looked,” said Meulensteen.

Joanna Follings, cereals specialist with the provincial agriculture department, said the region was well ahead of growing degree day accumulations a few months ago but cooler days in May slowed growth.

“What we thought was potentially going to be three weeks ahead of schedule, I would say is probably closer to seven to 10 days,” added Meulensteen. 

He noted variability in crop stage from county to county in the region north of London. 

“We got to the cooler zones, the effects of those cold nights was really felt and dragged things out. Dufferin and Grey, those areas I would say are not really ahead of schedule at all anymore,” says Meulensteen.

Added Follings: “We did run into a few weeks of cool conditions and that really slowed the growth and development. Even though things really warmed up and we ran into a bit of a dry spell, at the end of the day we’ve really sort of averaged out and we’re now probably lightly tracking ahead, maybe five to seven days early.” 

She also noted the risk of fungal growth in certain weather conditions.

“Beyond June 5 if we get some warm and wet weather, the risk for DON will be strong. Like every year, I would strongly encourage every wheat acre to have a T3 fungicide spray at flowering. The risk is not worth it, and the crop will still respond with benefits of added stay-green, cleaner straw and added straw volume.”

Meulensteen also recommends a T3 fungicide spray at flowering.

“If we can get through heading and flowering with moderate temperatures, a little more seasonal, I think that’ll set things up quite well. A couple of years ago, when we had an early harvest, with the experience of extreme drought, the plants raced to the finish line.” 

Follings said some areas in Northern Ontario were hit hard by the frost in the last week of May. 

“There are some regions that have lost some wheat acreage and some spring acreage. We don’t know yet exactly how much,” she said. 

However, she added that growers across Ontario have remained on top of wheat management this year.

“We’re working through T3 timing fungicide applications protecting against fusarium risk and stripe rust. Between now and harvest, we just hope that Mother Nature co-operates, and we don’t have any extreme temperatures. It’s still six weeks to go and I’m quite hopeful for the wheat crop.” 

An early crop gives farmers an opportunity to consider other options following harvest. 

“The London south area [farmers] can try for a second, double crop of beans if they can get those planted by July 15,” said Meulensteen. “There is more of a chance for cover crops, or if the growers happen to be a livestock system and they’re short on forages, they can grow some feed that way.”

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