Production Practices for Optimum Yields of Winter Cereals

wheatWinter cereals (wheat, rye and triticale) are environmentally-friendly because they suppresses weeds, cover the soil during the fall and winter, and draw leftover nutrients from the soil profile that could otherwise have environmental implications. Cultivation of winter cereals helps to spread seeding and harvesting operations and offers (crop) rotational advantages. Since these crops mature earlier than spring cereals, these can escape dry weather during July and August. Of the three winter cereals, winter rye is the most hardy and it can be grown on lands considered marginal for winter wheat. The following tips could help raise a bumper crop of winter cereals and maximizing return of investment on inputs:

Variety and seed rate: Grow AAC Gateway, a Western hard red winter wheat (seed source Seeds Depot Manitoba, which is usually more winter hardy than the Ontario winter wheat varieties. Averaged over three years (2013-‘15) it recorded a grain yield of 6.57 MT/ha and a straw yield of 9.15 MT/ha at TBARS. Moats (marketed by Trawin seeds; Tel 306-752-4060) is another good hard red winter wheat variety that gave 6.76 MT grain and 8.75 MT straw yield/ha at TBARS (averaged over three years). The best varieties of winter rye are Bono (C & M Seeds; Tel: 888-733-9432), Brasetto (C & M Seeds) and Guttino (seed source Seednet; Tel: 888-733-9432) with a yield potential of ≥ 8.5 MT grains/ha and 8.2 MT/ha (averaged over 3 years at TBARS for Brasetto & Guttino). Fridge (Trawin seeds) is the winter triticale variety, which is recommended for forage production. Seed @ 400 seeds per m2. However, this is if the seeds are 100% viable, which often isn’t the case. Assuming a germination percentage of 95 %, the seed rate will be 400 x 100 ÷ 95 = 421 per m2; and likewise 444 per m2, if the germination percentage is only 90 %. Again, all viable seeds may not emerge (come out of the soil) due to shallow or deep planting at some spots in the field. Assuming 10 % of the seeds fail to emerge, the adjusted (optimum) seed rate will be 468 and 493 seeds per m2 for 95 % and 90 % seed germination, respectively. It is better to err on the higher than on the lower side of the recommended seed rate to ensure proper crop stand! The 1000 kernel weight (TKW) could vary from variety to variety and from year to year with the same variety. To calculate seed rate in kg/acre, you need to know the TKW and the germination % (usually mentioned on the seed bags). If you don’t know the 1000 kernel weight of your seed lot, come to TBARS with a lump sum seed and we will let you know the 1000 kernel weight.

Seeding time and depth: Optimum window of winter cereal seeding in Thunder Bay is August 25 to September 5. If the seeding is delayed beyond September 5, due to unavoidable reasons, September 15 should be the cut off period for winter cereal seeding. In this case, it may be advisable to bump up the seed rate by 10-15 % to compensate for low tiling due to delayed seeding. Grain yield loss with each day’s delay in seeding from the optimum time could be 100 kg/ha. Seed 2.5 cm (1 inch) deep into the moist soil.

Fertilizer application: For phosphorus and potassium application (at seeding), follow soil test based recommendations (Refer Agronomy Guide for Field Crops). Application of Nitrogen (N) should be made at least @ 120 kg N/ha; 10-10.5 kg N/ha should come from ammonium sulphate, 40 kg N/ha from ESN and the rest from urea. If you apply liquid dairy manure before seeding, reduce nitrogen application rate by 10 kg/ha for every 1000 gallons of manure/acre. Application of ammonium sulphate will take care of sulphur (S) requirements of winter wheat. Remember our soils are deficient in S. Part N through ESN will ensure consistent supply of nitrogen till grain development and will help in getting higher grain protein content. Entire amount of ESN could be applied in the seed row with the seeds without any harmful effect on crop emergence/and growth. Multiyear research at TBARS has indicated that it is beneficial to apply all N at seeding. It ensured good tillering before the crops went into the snow. If you get 5 tillers/plant before the snow cover, you will sure get a bumper crop next spring/summer! It was also observed that application of S improved winter survival in winter wheat.  It is advisable to go for a pre-seeding nitrate N test. A reasonably good crop of winter cereal(s) can be raised without application of N if the pre-seeding nitrate N test is 40 ppm or above. It is desirable to apply boron @ 1-2 kg B/ha and zinc @ 7 kg Zn/ha along with other fertilizers at seeding.

Weed control: Winter cereals, especially winter rye, can suppress seasonal weeds well! No chemical weed control is required in winter rye. However, sometimes winter annuals, such as Shepherd’s Purse and Canada Fleabane, which germinate during the fall and survive during winter, could overgrow winter wheat (not rye/triticale) in spring. It may be too late to control winter annuals in spring and these therefore need to be controlled in the fall. Shepherd’s Purse is the predominant winter annual at Thunder Bay, specifically in fields that had been under grass hay cultivation for many years. Weed density in such fields can be as thick as hairs on a human head (not a bald head though!). Winter annuals generally aren’t an issue in fields under cultivation of annual (spring) crops. Spray Refine Extra in the fall for control of winter annuals. Perennial weeds are best controlled by a pre-seeding burn down application of glyphosate (Round Up). Please note that without adequate weed control in winter wheat seeded in fields previously under hay, you wouldn’t be able to raise a bumper crop of winter wheat even if everything else is done at the optimum time/rate!

Disease Control: Fortunately, we don’t have any serious disease or insect-pests problem in winter cereals. Hence, control measures are generally not required. Avoid seeding winter cereals after winter or spring cereals to get rotational advantages. However, extended period of high moisture or relative humidity (>90%) and warm temperatures (15 to 30°C) close to/and at flowering are conducive to infection and spread of Fusarium Head Blight. Therefore, under such conditions, spraying fungicides at initiation of flowering for disease control is desirable, especially in winter wheat.

Happy Seeding Winter Cereals!

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