Winter Wheat Seeding Tips - Parrish and Heimbecker, Limited

Six ways to win at winter wheat

There’s a 45-bushel yield difference between average winter wheat yields and what top-end producers harvest. Here’s how to close the gap on your farm.

Your management needs to fire on all cylinders to push your winter wheat into the upper echelon of Ontario wheat yields.

We’re on the verge of setting all-time high provincial wheat yields in 2021. The ten-year average Ontario winter wheat yields are now pushing 85 bushels an acre according to Agricorp. But the top growers are seeing 130 bu/ac.

Producing high-yielding wheat depends a lot on the weather, your farming operation and the area you’re in, but here are six tips to help you hit those high-yield numbers no matter where you call home.

1) Use certified, treated seed.

Using certified seed that has performed well in winter wheat performance trials gives you a better chance of hitting that upper echelon of wheat yields. The right seed genetics can provide good winter hardiness and tolerance to disease. You can also choose genetics that will provide good standability as you increase nitrogen rates, something you’ll need to do to achieve top yields.

Certified seed also has strict limitations on weed-seed contamination plus more uniform seed size for greater crop uniformity, vigor, germination and establishment. Use treated seed to protect against insects and soilborne diseases.

Find the Ontario Winter Wheat Performance Trial Data here or talk to your local Parish & Heimbecker retail location to help you interpret the results locally.

2) Set seeding depth at 1.5-inches

Seed into moisture but not so shallow that the crop becomes vulnerable during the winter months. If necessary, seed deeper if the soil is dry at seeding. At minimum, seed at 1-inch depth for proper nodal root development.

Winter wheat is very responsive to seeding depth. Try and be as accurate as possible. If you plant deep enough you will see secondary root systems develop before winter. Go too deep and the wheat will be slower to emerge in the spring. Reduce seeding depth variation by slowing down and using seed firmers.

3) Use starter phosphorus at planting

Wheat always responds to phosphorus applied to a wheat crop. Phosphorus is necessary for many key plant growth and energy functions. Adding P to your wheat crop can produce more fall tillers, more uniform emergence, increase root development and enhance winter survival. That all means the potential for higher yields. Add phosphate when the wheat seed is drilled for optimum results.

Soil tests are key to having a balanced fertility program for all macro and micro nutrients. Ask your local P&H retailer to conduct a soil test on your farm and then help you interpret the results for the right nutrient plan.

4) Apply a pre-emergent herbicide

A fall application of a pre-emergent herbicide can give you some extra breathing room in the spring when unpredictable weather can delay your herbicide application. Even though winter wheat is quite competitive, a delayed herbicide application can result in poor control of winter annuals and perennials. Weed pressure can impact tillering, which has a direct impact on yield.

By spraying in the fall you can also get ahead of herbicide-resistant Canada fleabane and perennial and winter annual weeds. Plus, getting your herbicide application out of the way allows you to time your fungicide application in the spring based on disease pressure, not weeds.

5) Apply spring nitrogen to drive yield… and don’t forget sulfur

You need to push nitrogen rates to produce higher-yielding wheat. Those increased rates must go hand in hand with a fungicide application. Without a fungicide application research shows that you can’t go much higher than 90 lbs/ac of actual N. With a fungicide application you’ll still see economic benefit of rates of 120-150 lbs/ac actual N.

Fall-applied nitrogen doesn’t work. When you apply nitrogen in the spring, add around 10 lbs/ac of sulfur too. The movement to reduce sulfur emissions in the 1980s and 90s worked. Now Ontario soils benefit from added S.

Your P&H retailer can help you choose the optimal rate of both N and S. They’ll consider your expectations and evaluate your yield potential based on stand and field history before making a recommendation.

6) Apply fungicides

You won’t achieve big wheat yields without fungicides, at least not with Ontario weather conditions.

A foliar application can happen twice – first at T1 with your herbicide application if you didn’t already take care of that in the fall. Yield is derived from proper photosynthate in leaf tissue to maximize yield. Keep the leaf tissue clear of disease and you’ll maximize yield.

You may need to do a second fungicide application at T3 depending on weather conditions. This happens at flowering to protect against fusarium head blight.

We can help. Contact your local P&H retail location to speak to a crop advisor. They can help you soil test, choose the right certified seed and time your herbicide and fungicide applications to maximize yield.