Ontario Field Crop Report
2006 Cereal Crop Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Winter Cereals
  3. Fall Plantings
  4. Spring Cereals
  5. Challenges for 2007

Technical information can also be obtained at the OMAFRA Field Crops Webpage and Crop Pest Ontario. Referenced OMAFRA Publications include the Agronomy Guide for Field Crops (Publication 811), the Field Crop Protection Guide (Publication 812), Guide to Weed Control (Publication 75), and Ontario Weeds (Publication 505). These can be obtained from your OMAFRA Resource Centre, or by calling 1-800-668-9938.


The record acreage and yields of 2006 have given way to dismal plantings into extremely poor conditions for the crop next year (2007). Spring cereal acreage blipped up nicely in 2006, with average to above average yields. Quality was generally good across all cereals, although oat test weights tended to be lower, and hard red winter wheat had very low protein levels. The shift in rust to new races, overcoming genetic resistance for both winter wheat and oat, is of concern for production next year and into the future.

Winter Cereals

A record of 1.1 million acres coupled with a new yield record of 85.5 bu/ac.

The fall of 2005 was almost ideal for wheat plantings, with warm temperatures through early October and an early soybean harvest. Of the 1.1 million acres, at least 80% was planted early or on-time, giving excellent yield potential. Growth in the fall was excellent on early plantings, although cool weather through the last half of October and November resulted in less growth on crops planted on typical dates. Mild conditions in early January melted the snow cover, and cold temperatures through late January without snow raised concerns of low temperature injury. However, the crop showed virtually no injury from this weather stress as the season progressed.

Warm temperatures again took the snow away in March, and between the January and March conditions, there was more frost heave injury than normal. Shallow planting depths exacerbated this problem. Many crops were extremely thin right through to harvest from this injury, and yield predictions on these thin fields by most agronomists missed the mark widely. Early planting and mild winter temperatures had the wheat crop 10 days ahead of normal except for eastern Ontario where lack of snow and icing conditions destroyed over 50% of the winter wheat crop.

April was ideal for timely nitrogen applications. Several severe cold spells (as low as -8°C) through late April and May destroyed all green tissue in some locations. These cold spells made herbicide applications a bit tricky, but not impossible. With the wheat crop still 7 to 10 days ahead of normal, these freezing night temperatures in late May were a major concern with the earliest heading fields in the southwest. In a few isolated locations, freezing temperatures did interfere with pollination and small areas of these fields yielded zero. A near miss for a major impact on the crop!

Overwintering rust was found by field scouts in a few fields in the Woodstock to Mount Forest corridor. Overwintering rust is unusual, and was an indicator of things to come. As the season progressed, rust was the main disease concern, although the source of the rust outbreak was not related to overwintering.

The other diseases of note this year were the viral diseases (wheat soil borne mosaic, spindle streak mosaic) and Cephalosporium stripe. Cephalosporium stripe was prevalent and related to variety. Yields dropped by 10% or more in severely affected fields. There are no effective control options for these diseases.

Fortunately, fusarium was a non-issue in this year's wheat crop. Dwarf bunt, while not significant, was present at much higher levels than expected, demonstrating that seed treatment coverage is imperative to good control.

Harvest was a tough go, particularly through the London-Woodstock corridor. Rainfall prevented harvest for a two week period on the perimeter of this band, and for three to four weeks within this band. As a result, mildew downgraded some crop across the southwest, with sprouting and low falling number reducing grade in the heart of the affected area. The soft white winter crop was affected the most, with almost no top quality soft white harvested.

As harvest unfolded, yields were spectacular, ending up a full 10% above the previous provincial record, at 85.5 bu/ac (previous record in 2003 of 77.5). Protein levels were a full point below a year ago levels, meaning that much of the hard red winter crop did not achieve protein premiums. All other quality parameters were excellent, with the 2006 Ontario winter wheat crop being well received by all end users.

Fall Plantings

Wheat acreage this fall is dismal, at about 475,000 acres, barely ½ of intentions, with nearly all wheat planted later than desirable and into less than ideal conditions. This has been the complete opposite of last fall, and none of the wheat looks ideal as of this report. Many growers have been forced to roll futures contracts forward to the 08 harvest, as they simply were unable to plant wheat. Fall conditions have continued unusually wet and cool, giving rise to the potential for more acres of fall kill (drownout) than normal. This is extremely disappointing given the mainstay that wheat has become in many growers profit column.

Spring Cereals

Acreage of all spring cereals increased this year, with poor crop prices and high input costs for other crops. Spring wheat increased the most at 40%, with barley showing the least increase at 10%. Amazingly, and almost disturbingly, mixed grain acreage spiked up 20%, even though this crop has very limited marketability.

Planting moved ahead rapidly into excellent soil conditions, with 65% of the crop planted by April 25th and fully 80% of the crop planted by May 5th. There was not as much opportunity for frost seeding as some growers would have hoped for, but acreage that was frost seeded in late March once again showed huge yield gains for this practice (40%).

The crop enjoyed predominantly cool, dry conditions across much of the growing region. These conditions kept leaf disease levels extremely low until late in the year, when spot blotch (barley), rust (oat and wheat), and fusarium (wheat) became a concern. Dry conditions allowed both fertilizer and herbicide applications to occur in a timely manner, making it a relatively easy start to the season. Unfortunately, the dry weather continued in some areas, with crops on eroded knolls withering and producing very little in these regions. Weed pressure also developed in these regions, particularly foxtail, forcing growers to spray for annual grasses that they do not normally have to control.

Physiological fleck was prevalent in many fields this year, and many growers confused this with disease. Disease pressure was significant in this year's barley planted into previous barley fields, but this was simply a rotation issue. Spot blotch developed late in the season on barley, and did give rise to some shrunken kernels, but was not of major impact. Fusarium hit the spring wheat crop, with a near miss in many areas. While the bulk of the crop was clean, some fields did reach as high as 9% fusarium. Again, in most of these fields the spring wheat was grown on corn residue, and rotation played a major role in this outcome.

RUST! The race of leaf (crown) rust has shifted in oat, and has overcome much of the genetic resistance which growers have relied on over the past years. While new genetics are in the pipeline, oat growers will need to scout closely in the short-term, and maximize the benefit from foliar fungicides by ensuring timely application. Test weight was significantly reduced in many oat fields due to rust infestations. Similar to winter wheat, rust also hit the spring wheat crop, with genetic differences again becoming more defined.

European chafer destroyed some spring cereal fields on sandy soils along Georgian Bay. Wireworm was another insect pest in specific fields causing severe injury. Armyworm was a significant problem in some areas in the Ottawa Valley and Alliston area, with some fields requiring control measures. Fortunately, natural parasites were sufficient to destroy the pest in many locations. Cereal leaf beetle was found at a number of locations, but similar to armyworm, natural parasites were effective in limiting damage in most fields.

Dry weather took its toll as harvest results came in. Yields were only average for the barley, oat and mixed grain crop, at about 2600 lbs/ac (2900 kg/ha). Test weights were marginal for the oat crop, indicating the importance of early planting to achieve high quality oats again being driven home. Spring wheat yields were somewhat better, about 6% above average at 49.2 bu/ac. Protein and quality of the spring wheat crop was excellent, although some downgrading due to mildew did occur in later harvested fields. Much of the improved yield of spring wheat can again be attributed to early planting, and the fact that a higher proportion of the crop is grown in the areas that were less affected by the dry weather.

As always, this report would not be complete without discussing straw yields from barley, the only reason many growers have for growing the crop. With the exception of the driest areas, most growers were pleased with good straw yields due to cool conditions, and thus, will grow barley yet again next year, despite spring wheat being more profitable.

Acreage intentions for 2007 are much increased for spring wheat, with heavy soil areas that were unable to plant winter wheat now banking on frost seeding spring wheat into those acres. As prices improve for corn and soybeans, acreage intentions for barley and mixed grain continue to slide. Oat acreage intentions appear to be less impacted by prices for these other commodities, although intentions appear down slightly. All this, of course, may change drastically by spring!

Challenges for 2007

  1. Rust in Wheat and Oat: With the high level and early appearance of rust in this year's crop, growers will need to scout and be prepared to control rust. The wheat rust risk may well be higher in specific varieties, if a race shift has occurred. Samples are currently under analysis and a determination will be available before spring.
  2. Management of late planted wheat: Management techniques to improve yields and save questionable stands will be essential next spring since so few acres were planted and those in the ground have experienced poor growth this fall. Fields will need to be scouted early and decisions made quickly on whether to carry through with the crop next spring. Optimal timing of fertilizer, herbicide and fungicide applications will be critical in maximizing the potential of the limited acerage in place.
  3. Nitrogen management for protein: Low protein levels in the hard red winter crop have increased the need for improvements and/or changes in management. Techniques to achieve a consistently acceptable protein level, in the hard red winter wheat crop, are to be evaluated over the next several years.

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