Winter wheat harvest decent in 2020

A good crop emerged despite increased insect pressures and prolonged cool spring conditions

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Good quality and some better-than-expected yields make this year’s winter wheat crop substantially better than that of 2018-19. While prolonged cool conditions in April had experts concerned over the potential for disease development, such risks did not materialize. Increased insect pressures did, however.

Why it matters: After a tough 2018-19, a better winter wheat crop is welcome for farmers.

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“For the most part winter wheat seeding was quite good. Much of it went in with much better conditions than the fall of 2018. As a result, we had a good root system and some tillers developed before going into winter,” says Joanna Follings, cereals specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs.

Such conditions, plus a relatively mild winter free of radical freeze-thaw cycling, as well as several weeks of warmer weather in March, combined to provide much of Ontario’s wheat crop with optimal early-season growth — though a return to cold weather in April was cause for concern in some areas.

With much of harvest complete in the south, yields ranging from 80 to 110 bushels per acre have been reported.

“There have been reports of instances of lower test weights, but for the most part quality has been good so far,” says Follings, adding harvest in eastern and northern Ontario is ongoing.

In April, Farmtario reported Follings and her colleague Albert Tenuta, field crop pathologist, expressed concern over the spread of stripe rust from the United States. The disease had, around that time, been found in test plots in Michigan and elsewhere.

“When it’s in Michigan we tend to get it here after,” says Follings. Fortunately, favourable wind patterns may have kept spores from crossing the border in any notable quantity. Hot weather in May and June also appear to have suppressed the pathogen.

“We always watch for it especially in the early part of May… but we really did not see any high levels of stripe rust,” she says.

Low levels of fusarium and DON infection were similarly seen.

Notable numbers of aphids, cereal wheat beetles, and armyworms have, in contrast, made 2020 an “insect year.”

Aphids were perhaps the least threatening part of the trio. Follings says correspondingly good numbers of beneficial insects have helped suppress aphid populations.

Cereal wheat beetle and armyworm, though, were a greater cause for concern. Regarding the latter, large variations in where and when armyworms were appearing made it difficult to determine spray thresholds.

“There’s a lot of variation in when armyworm was showing up, and in the size. We suspect that moth flights were even longer this year,” says Follings. “Probably for three to four weeks growers were scouting once a week to make sure populations weren’t growing or they weren’t seeing a lot of head clipping.”

Hot spots for the pests included areas north of London, as well as in Lambton county and the Niagara region. Populations were still found throughout southwestern and central Ontario, however, particularly in fields containing a lot of grassy weeds.

“From there they then started to move into some spring cereals and grassy forages,” says Follings.

Despite these pressures, though, she reiterates good quality and average to above-average yields have thus far characterized this year’s winter wheat crop.

About the author

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Matt McIntosh

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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