Many experienced optimal weather in September and October of 2020 allowing for timely soybean and edible bean harvest. This provided an opportunity to get winter cereals seeded in their optimum planting window and into ideal conditions. Approximately 1,100,000 acres of winter wheat were seeded. The proportion of hard red wheat acres was down from 8% to 6% of the acres. Soft white wheat acreage remained the same at 3% and the proportion of soft red wheat acres were slightly up at 91%. Prior to winter, fields had an opportunity to establish a deep root system and tiller, increasing the likelihood of winter survival.
2021 Cereal Growing Season
Winter wheat acreage was up in many areas with most coming out of winter in excellent condition. There were very few damage reports from winterkill. The cereal rye forage and cover crops also came out of winter in good condition. By early March wheat was starting to green up and was looking excellent. Warmer than average temperatures advanced crop development faster than normal. There were fields in Grey, Bruce and Wellington counties that did experience higher levels of snow mould, resulting in thinner stands.
By the first week of April many across the province were well into seeding spring cereals with planting being wrapped up by the end of April. Spring cereals were planted into excellent conditions and were off to a promising start. Despite the excellent planting conditions, spring cereal acreage was down. Approximately 71,700 acres of oats were seeded across the province, 51,500 acres of barley, 96,800 acres of spring wheat and 58,800 acres of mixed grain.
While most of March and early April were warm, things turned cold in mid-April and remained that way well into May. These fluctuations in temperature resulted in nutrient deficiencies across the province, particularly manganese (Mn) and sulphur (S). Deficiencies in S are most common in low organic matter and coarse soils, while Mn deficiency is often found in high pH and dry soils. For S deficiency, optimum application rates are 10-15 lb/ac of actual sulfur as ammonium thiosulfate or ammonium sulfate. Foliar applications are recommended for Mn, with optimum rates provided from 8 kg/ha (7 lb/acre) manganese sulfate in 200 L (53 gal) of water. Use a “spreader-sticker” in the spray.
Nitrogen (N) and sulphur applications began in earnest in late March with 80% of fields in Ontario having had a N application by the middle of April. While many acres were intended to receive split N applications, many opted for a single N application once the weather turned cold and attention switched to corn and soybean planting.
Cold temperatures through much of April also delayed many herbicide and early fungicide applications into late May. In some cases, herbicide applications were skipped to avoid injury to emerging flag leaves. The temperatures and moisture during this period were also conducive for powdery mildew development with some areas seeing high pressure in certain susceptible winter wheat varieties. Susceptibility ratings for specific varieties can be found on the head-to-head section of the Ontario Cereal Crops Committee website. In the early days of June, some areas experienced cold temperatures resulting in some cereal frost injury, particularly in areas that were at pollination development. Temperatures quickly warmed again and T3 fungicide applications were made in a timely manner during pollination to protect against fusarium head blight. Applications at this stage were also made to manage powdery mildew that continued to make its way up the crop canopy. Insects also became a concern in some regions with aphids, cereal leaf beetle and thrips being found. However, for the most part, the level of insect feeding/damage was below thresholds.
Hot, dry conditions through June advanced the wheat crop more quickly and shortened the grain fill period. Eroded knolls and sandy areas of fields were “burning up” and turning prematurely. At the end of June, much of Ontario experienced a significant thunderstorm that resulted in the wheat lodging in many fields (Figure 1). Some fields did manage to stand back-up, but many fields remained flat right through to harvest. Where PGRs were used, the lodging was often delayed or reduced.
The rainfall at the end of June continued well into July making for a very challenging harvest. The persistent rain delayed harvest for many by one to two weeks. Despite the challenging harvest, yields were strong and above the historical provincial average. The average yield for soft red wheat was 95 bu/ac (113% of Average Farm Yield (AFY)), hard red wheat was 87 bu/ac (107% of AFY) and soft white wheat was 93 bu/ac (107% of AFY).
The quality of the wheat crop was variable. Protein was strong in hard red wheat varieties and DON levels were generally low. However, with the persistent wet weather, wheat began to sprout and falling numbers declined across the province in soft white and soft red wheat varieties. This resulted in downgraded wheat and some elevators unable to move wheat with low falling numbers through the system quickly. Straw yields were strong with prices being average compared to the previous years. Spring cereal harvest started in mid to late August and was prolonged for some due to persistent rainfall events. Overall spring cereal yields were excellent in 2021 and much better than 2020. Early planting and a cooler spring may have played a role in improved yields. Spring wheat had an average yield of 56 bu/ac (97% of AFY), mixed grain averaged 66 bu/ac (97% AFY), oats averaged 94 bu/ac (105% of AFY) and barley was 71 bu/ac (111% of AFY). Overall, the quality of spring cereals was good with few issues reported.
The good spring conditions in March provided an opportunity for growers to seed red clover. It is estimated that red clover acres were similar to 2020 with approximately 30% of wheat fields being seeded. Once winter wheat was harvested, many growers opted to seed a cover crop. Cover crop choices varied across the province with oats being one of the simplest and cost-effective choices, particularly for those looking for additional forage options. Where available, growers applied manure and digestates to their wheat stubble.
Fall 2022 Winter Wheat Planting Conditions
While planting conditions for winter wheat were ideal through much of September, things quickly turned with the arrival of rain at the end of the month and remained wet right through to November. This resulted in a significant portion of the winter wheat crop being planted beyond the optimum planting dates for any given region. The persistent wet conditions resulted in poor emergence and drowned out areas of fields in some regions leaving variable stands (Figure 2). There were also several reports of fields looking yellow, red or purple. This is likely a result of poor phosphorus uptake and root development, ultimately impacting the flow of sugars in the plant.
Fields that were planted early, generally have significant top growth with some fields experiencing powdery mildew pressure this fall. Fields with variable emergence or that have not yet emerged should be walked early in the spring to monitor for growth. It will also be important for these fields to have timely nitrogen applications next spring to promote tillering. For more information on assessing winter wheat stands in the spring and early season nitrogen management refer to FieldCropNews.com.
Despite the challenges with a wet fall, approximately 810,000 acres of winter wheat have been seeded which is down compared to 2021. Soft red winter wheat acres remain the same at about 91% of total acres. Hard red winter wheat acres are slightly up from last year at 7%, while soft white wheat acres are slightly down at 2% of the total acres.