Ontario Field Crop Report
Cereal Crops Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Spring Cereals
  2. Fall 2005 Plantings

Incredible! The 2005 winter wheat crop hung tough, finishing with a provincial average yield of 71.5 bu/ac! Despite record heat, and absolutely no rainfall throughout the entire grain fill process, the crop was able to come within 1.5 Bu/ac of trend line yields. We were but one rain away from a new yield record! Quality of the crop was excellent, with high protein levels, high test weights, and phenomenal falling number!

Dismal! Spring cereal yields are down dramatically, with high temperatures and lack of rainfall being too much for the crop. Spring wheat yielded a disappointing 40 Bu/ac on average, off 17% from trend line predictions of 48. Spring grains are even more disappointing, only 2100 pounds/acre, a full 24% off trend line predictions of 2750. Quality is borderline, with test weights barely making grade, and small, shrivelled kernels ruling the day.

Record acreage of winter wheat has been planted this fall. While final numbers are not yet in, estimates run well above 1 million acres of wheat planted. At least 80% of this crop was planted on time, into perfect soil conditions. Yield potential should be excellent!

Winter cereals

An estimated 780,000 acres of winter wheat were planted in the fall of 2004, with at least � of the crop being planted on time. In the southwest, the crop came through the winter in stellar condition, with less than 1% winterkill! Even November planted wheat had excellent winter survival. The same could not be said of central and eastern Ontario, where winter survival was marginal at best. Winter injury from ice cover and wet, soggy soils in the spring combined to reduce stands and cause replanting of some acres in this area.

The disparity between southwest and east central continued into the spring. Nitrogen applications were timely (mid April), with excellent, dry soil conditions for field travel in the southwest. It was so dry in this region that there were concerns over nitrogen loss, due to volatilization. However, if any loss did occur, it was not significant enough to reduce yield. In the east and central regions, wet soils challenged growers to avoid rutting fields, while applying nitrogen before the crop hit the rapid growth stage.

Heavy snowfall in much of the province in late April, coupled with a cool, dry May, slowed crop development significantly. Heading was delayed by 3-5 days, with the first heading dates occurring around May 30th. The cool soil conditions gave rise to more apparent Manganese (Mn) deficiency symptoms than normal. However, in many cases these symptoms were not MN deficiency, but a physiological response to weather stress in general. This drove home the importance of the "squirt and see" approach, where growers treat a small section of row by hand, to see if the crop responds, before spending money on treating the whole field.

New this year was the Weed Emergence Survey, done by Mike Cowbrough, OMAFRA Weed Lead. A number of fields were scouted on a bi-weekly basis throughout the wheat growing area, to determine weed species, weed density, and time of emergence. From this survey, only ½ of wheat fields have sufficient weed pressure to warrant weed control measures. The second target of this survey is to help growers apply herbicides at the right time. This year we continued to have a number of cases of late herbicide application (flag leaf stage) which significantly reduced yield. This survey will be continued and refined for next year, along with a continued extension thrust on this subject.

Dry conditions helped to keep disease pressure low in virtually all of the crop and especially during the critical periods of the crops development. Day after day of high UV index levels caused a great deal of physiological fleck(sunburn), which was often confused with disease. Stripe rustwas present in a few fields at very high levels, but did not spread to the crop in general. Stagonospora (septoria glume blotch) was evident in some fields as well. With low disease levels, response to foliar fungicides was minimal. Some interesting results were obtained with the new fungicide Headline, which warrants further tests next year. In some fields (but not all), significant yield increase were obtained from this fungicide even in the absence of disease. However, thus far, this response is not predictable.

Insect pressure was low in most of the wheat crop. Although there where some high aphid numbers, and isolated reports of cereal leaf beetle, there was no need to control insects in the crop.

Dry, cool conditions turned to hot and dry as May turned to June. With July like conditions, the wheat headed and pollinated much more rapidly than normal, taking only three days for a process that normally takes six days. As the weather stayed hot and dry, Fusariumrisk dropped to the lowest level in recent memory. As more growers are intent upon protecting a good crop, more acres were sprayed with Folicur than in previous years. As expected, with the continuation of dry, hot weather throughout grain fill, there was less response to Folicur applications. Fusarium was essentially a non-issue in this year's crop.

Hot, dry conditions became a huge scare in the wheat crop. In many fields, bottom leaves began to "fire", and in some varieties "onion leafing" occurred, just like when corn is under drought stress. This was of great concern since it was happening to the critical wheat flag leaves. These symptoms were exaggerated wherever any other stress existed. Short rotations, compaction, and drought prone sands all showed dramatic stress symptoms, which lead to very poor yields. The grain fill period was shortened from the hoped for 21 days down to 14 days in many fields. Harvest was advanced accordingly.

With all the hot, dry weather, straw was extremely short, and lodging was virtually non-existent. Harvest began with tough, green straw and shrivelled kernels creating great challenges for combine operators. However, the grain just kept pouring into the bin! While yields were down from the levels of the last several years, there was 10 bushels per acre more wheat than most growers ever expected! Grain quality was excellent. Straw yields did not match grain yields, with straw yields 20% below normal.

Then came the July 16th rain that saved the corn crop. Amazingly, soft white winter wheat that was hardly mature immediately had sprouts. Even some soft red varieties had sprouts, and mildew in grain samples became an issue. Despite these sprouts, the falling numbers remained high in most cases due to the tremendously high initial falling numbers. As harvest wrapped up, the vast majority of the crop was excellent, but the importance of timely harvest of the wheat crop was driven home yet again.

Protein in the crop is � to 1 full point above last year's levels. While this is good news for the hard red crop, the soft wheat crop was almost too high in protein to meet milling and baking requirements. The high number of small kernels in this year's crop has reduced milling yield slightly, and made mill adjustment critical. However, when all is said and done, a much better crop than anyone anticipated!

Spring Cereals

Spring cereal acreage increasedby approximately 15% this year, primarily due to the poor economics of growing corn. Unfortunately, spring cereals did not enjoy the same favourable outcome that winter cereals did.

Planting was timely in the southwest, with much of the crop planted in mid-April. However, much of the crop in the east-central and northern areas was planted later than ideal, due to the wet soil conditions. Even in the southwest, a considerable portion of the crop was not planted prior to the April snow, and the remaining seedings were delayed into May. For the first year in 4 years, there was essentially no window of opportunity to frost seed cereals, as conditions went from snow-covered to dry without any cold nights.

Emergence was good in much of the crop, however a considerable acreage did have variable emergence due to the dry soil conditions. Once the crop was planted, the weather turned extremely dry and any seed not planted into moisture experienced delayed emergence. The dry conditions in much of the province did mean that herbicide and nitrogen applications were applied on a timely basis.

Disease levels remained extremely low in the spring crop because of the low levels of rainfall. Insect pressure was another matter with extreme cases of armyworm outbreaks common. Some fields were completely stripped by armyworm, and many producers were not scouting closely enough to detect armyworm outbreaks before the damage reached severe levels. Cereal leaf beetle was another insect issue in some fields, but did not cause the level of damage that armyworm did.

Continued hot (above 30°C) and extremely dry conditions throughout the growth and development of the crop had a big impact. Some crops headed out at only 40 cm (16 inches) tall. Straw yields were almost nonexistent in these fields, and in many fields straw yields were less then 50% of normal. Yields were down dramatically (20%), and quality suffered as well. Mildew downgraded the spring wheat crop, and many milling oat fields struggled to make test weight. Malt barley fields fought to make grade, with kernel size being too small, and protein levels too high.

While spring cereals were not the bust that spring canola was, the result for most growers was extremely disappointing.

Fall 2005 Plantings

A record acreage of wheat was planted this fall (estimated at 1.2 million acres). Soft red continues to command the largest percentage of the crop, moving up from 2/3rd of the crop last year to � of the crop in 2005. Some of this crop was planted well before the optimum planting date, and there are significant concerns of Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus and Hessian fly damage in this portion of the crop. As well, where some growers chose to use farmer saved seed, there was no seed treatment applied which in specific areas raises alarm bells for the potential of bunt in next year's crop.

Fall weather continued with well above normal temperatures, with October being the driest on record in many locations. While most fields had excellent stand establishment, fields where growers chose to plant shallow rather than into moisture had extremely variable emergence.

Considerable consternation exists over the yellow appearance of many of the early planted wheat fields. These symptoms have been attributed to many factors, from nitrogen or manganese deficiency to rust and lack of moisture. Whatever the cause, these symptoms should have minimal impact on yield potential of the crop next year. Timely planted wheat, with good growth, tillering and crown development in the fall, gives good yield potential prospects if next year will only co-operate.

For more information:
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E-mail: ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca