Wheat crop promising after mild winter

A long-time layer of snow insulated the wheat, but also created risk of snow mould

Winter wheat is greening up quickly in many parts of Ontario.

This year’s mild winter has given winter wheat a strong start but snow mould has posed a risk for many areas. 

Joanna Follings, cereals specialist with OMAFRA says she is confident seeing the wheat coming out of this winter season. 

“We didn’t have a lot of extreme freeze thaw events; it was a lot more gentle compared to 2019 when we had 30 per cent losses.” 

Why it matters: A strong start to the winter wheat growing season in the early months of the year sets wheat up for success.

Fall 2020 provided ideal conditions for planting, allowing the wheat crop to grow and tiller before the winter. 

“Most of the wheat was planted in really good time. We saw significant tillering going into winter and so the wheat was more robust and had an increased chance of survival,” says Follings. 

Joanna Wallace, an agronomist and territory sales rep with Syngenta, said she is seeing some fields with five or six tillers. Managing such fast-growing wheat has implications for management later in the growing season. 

“If you have really nice thick plants with a good stands with good tillering and we keep that until the end of April, we are going to want to manage that with nitrogen rates and growth regulators to really push that wheat,” says Wallace.

The large amounts of snow in her area of Perth and Huron counties created good insulation for the wheat with little frost, says Wallace. 

“When the snow came we had a really nice foot of insulation. I think the frost actually came out of the ground for the most part. In a lot of fields, the wheat probably kept growing at that point slowly through the winter by how green it was when it came out from under the snow,” said Wallace. 

But these conditions also make for ideal snow mould production. 

“It usually happens when we have extended periods of continuous snow cover and you don’t have dormancy and top kill before we go into winter. It’s not frozen under the snow, there’s a lot of oxygen. Our snow is very porous,” says Deb Campbell, owner of Agronomy Advantage. 

Campbell says she sees a fair amount of it in her area of Wellington, South Grey and Dufferin. 

“Headlands and corners of the fields, anywhere that the snow has drifted, it’s a little thicker, has stuck around a little bit longer. That’s where the main areas of kill is. I haven’t seen much where I am concerned we are going to have to replant, but it does take a bit of a toll of our yield potential when we’ve got some thinner strands.” 

There’s not much producers can do to help prevent or fix snow mould, but variety selection is key. 

“If someone does have a variety that they’re noticing a significant amount in the spring, they can certainly look at a different variety – there are certain weakness there,” says Campbell. 

It is early in the year to fully understand the potential of the 2021 wheat crop, but continued nice weather will help it develop. 

“Some say that March and April can make or break the wheat crop. It is a concern if there is no snow cover and we get those really cold temperatures. But if the weather continues to cooperate with us we’re in pretty good stand right now,” says Wallace. 

The number of acres planted in Ontario this year is significant at 1.1 million, which is an increase from previous years. 

“The last two years we have had just over one million acres. Prior to that we were having just below a million acres. We’ve really been seeing this steady increase,” says Follings. 

She says this can be attributed to growers seeing the value of having wheat in the rotation from a soil health perspective and commodity prices continuing strong.

“June, July last year wheat was well over $7. Producers locked in for the coming year,” says Follings.

About the author

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Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer is a farm reporter who lives in Cayuga, Ontario.

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