Early signs point to strong Prairie winter wheat crop

Prairie winter wheat seems to have survived periods of extreme cold and low snowfall, preliminary findings indicate.

“Across the Prairies, the recovery has been anywhere from excellent to fair,” says Western Winter Wheat Initiative agronomist Janine Paly.


Manitoba, central to northern Alberta and northern Saskatchewan experienced similar conditions last fall, receiving beneficial moisture that helped winter wheat develop into its ideal growing stage, Paly says.

“I have also heard good things about survival from some farmers,” adds cereals specialist Anne Kirk of Manitoba Agriculture.

Her department’s first crop report of the year states winter cereals are in generally good condition.

Paly says it’s still too early to determine if winter wheat survived in some parts of Alberta, particularly northern regions where spring gets a later start. But she adds observations so far range from excellent to fair shape.

Southern Saskatchewan, however, was one of the driest areas last fall and its recovery remains behind. Early signs, however, show 70 per cent viability in the soils that have been checked already, Paly says.

A winter wheat field south of Moose Jaw revealed promising results, Saskatchewan Agriculture crops specialist Cory Jacob says. Seven or eight of the 10 plants dug up showed new growth.

“We were surprised to see the plant stand that we saw in Moose Jaw, as that area had record low rainfall,” Jacob says. “Overall, I think we will be surprised as to how well the winter wheat has survived the non-ideal fall and winter.”

Be patient

“Winter wheat is quite hardy and we say that it isn’t time to jump the gun yet about winter kill,” says Jacob.

Be patient, urges Paly, who encourages growers not to rush into terminating their winter wheat fields.

“Ideally you want to look at 20 plants per square foot, but a thin plant stand at 10 to 15 plants per square foot can still produce an adequate crop,” Paly says.

She recommends growers apply spring nitrogen as soon as they can to give their plants a kick-start.

“Early weed control is also important as thin stands will be less competitive with weeds,” adds Kirk.

The Western Winter Wheat Initiative offers advice on winter wheat assessment and several tips to keep in mind during assessment.

Bottom line

Winter wheat recovery is good so far, but growers seeing poor results should exercise caution and take steps to ensure their crops have the best chance of survival. Look for 20 plants per square foot, but even 10 to 15 plants in the same area can produce an adequate crop.

Article by: Richard Kamchen