Planning for Big Wheat Yields!

Despite the dry year and stripe rust infestation, we saw some big winter wheat yields across the province this season. Many growers are giving credit to a strong stand establishment last fall thanks to the excellent planting conditions. So as we get into the full swing of winter wheat planting, here are a few things to keep in mind that will help you get those high winter wheat yields and break another provincial record!

Know your optimum planting date and seeding rate

As we saw with the early planted crop last fall, wheat is very responsive to planting date. This was evident in 2006 when there were record yields due to early planting the previous fall. There was also a significant response to planting date in 1993, when a late planted winter wheat crop resulted in low yields. Given that planting date has a significant impact on yield, make sure you plan ahead and ensure you are targeting the optimum planting date for your area as outlined in Chapter 4 of Publication 811: Agronomy Guide for Field Crops, Optimum Date to Seed Winter Wheat Across Ontario.

Optimum date to seed winter wheat across Ontario.

Figure 1. Optimum date to seed winter wheat across Ontario

Given that the weather does not always cooperate, it is important to be aware of the implications of variation in planting date and how to adapt accordingly. Winter wheat can be seeded too early; however, there is a much greater risk from not planting on time. At the optimum timing, winter wheat should be seeded at 1.5 million seeds/acre. This can very slightly depending on the variety so check the label for the particular variety you want to grow.

When seeding winter wheat too early there is an increased risk of lodging and snow mould. To reduce these risks decrease the seeding rate by 25% if seeding more than 10 days before the optimum planting date for your area. When planting winter wheat later than the optimum timing there is reduced fall tillering. To compensate for this, increase the seeding rate by 200,000 seeds/week to a maximum of 2.2 million seeds/acre.

Plant at the right seeding depth

Similar to planting date, winter wheat is also very responsive to seeding depth so the more accurate the seeding depth the better chance for winter survival and higher yields. Having the proper seeding depth results in the development of a secondary root system well before winter begins and encourages quick emergence. If winter wheat is planted too deep emergence is delayed resulting in a yield reduction; however, there is often a greater yield reduction due to planting wheat too shallow.

Ensure you are planting at a depth of 2.5 cm (1 in.). Moisture availability is a very important factor so although 1 in. is an ideal depth, ensure you adjust your depth accordingly so that you are placing the seed into moisture. You can also reduce seeding depth variation by using seed firmers and reducing your planting speed.

Choose the right variety and use quality seed

Select a variety that is suited to your growing area. A number of factors should be considered when choosing a variety, these include: the farm location, winter survival, insect and disease resistance, lodging potential and yield. Utilize the Ontario cereals performance trial data on website. When looking at the data, select varieties that perform well in your area across a number of sites and years. Use high quality seed with excellent germination as well as a seed treatment to help protect against seedling diseases.