Ontario Field Crop Report
2008 Cereal Seasonal Summary

Table of Contents

  1. Summary
  2. Winter Cereals
  3. Spring Cereals
  4. Challenges for 2009

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.

Summary

A record acreage (1.25 million acres) of winter wheat was planted into excellent conditions in the fall of 2007. The shift to soft red winter wheat continued with the 2008 crop dividing into a 73% SRW, 15% HRW, and 12% SWW split. Final yield was slightly above trend line at 81.6 bu/ac. The yield of SRW continued to dominate at 83.3 bu/ac, SWW at 80.1, and HRW at 77.9 (data courtesy Agricorp). Harvest was a challenge with frequent showers and rain delays, particularly in areas east of Toronto. Quality of SRW was mostly good, with significant sprouting concerns in the SWW crop and higher fusarium levels in some of the HRW harvest. Protein levels are at record low levels in much of the crop.

Spring cereal acreages declined for all classes: spring wheat 170,000 ac (-5%), oat 75,000 ac (-25%), barley 155,000 ac (-9%), mixed grain 115,000 ac (-18%). This continues the trend for all spring cereals except wheat which had been increasing until this year. Yields were close to average with spring at wheat 51.2 bu/ac, barley 63.3, oat and mixed grain both near 70 bu/ac. Quality of the spring wheat crop was very disappointing. Estimates that were over 40% of the crop were graded feed or sample on account of fusarium, particularly in Eastern Ontario. Ergot was also found at high levels in a significant number of acres in central/west production regions.

Fall planting conditions in 2008 were less than ideal and prices were not encouraging for growers to plant wheat. However, growers have become accustomed to wheat being a profit centre and they recognize the benefits of growing wheat. These features remained uppermost in grower's minds resulting in the fourth largest winter wheat plantings on record estimated at 950,000 acres. Trend line yield for 2009 is 79.6 bu/ac. The new crop as of this report is in fair to good shape, with early wheat (prior to Thanksgiving) looking acceptable, and later wheat spotty or showing "tile run" symptoms due to continued saturated soils. The shift to SRW continues with current plantings at 82% SRW, 11% HRW, and 7% SWW. This acreage of SWW leaves little room for crop problems before demand will outstrip supply.

Winter Cereals

Planting

In the fall of 2007, growers went to the field early and hard with the earliest wheat actually planted in August and significant acreage planted by September 15th. Extremely warm conditions (32°C +) the first week of October, gave tremendous growth to early wheat with significant fall disease developing. The crop planted after Thanksgiving did not have these conditions as weather turned cool and damp. By winter, two wheat crops had developed; early wheat with tremendous growth, and late wheat with little top. Winter was long and harsh, particularly in the deep southwest, with heavy rains and ice formation. These water-logged conditions did impact the crop with thin stands and final yields slightly below average in this region. Further to the north, this rain came as snow resulting in a long winter still conducive to wheat survival. Increased incidence of snow mould was the only outcome of the extended period of snow cover. Ontario's first ever occurrence of winter cutworm identified in wheat near Parkhill, destroying the stand.

Growing Season

Spring came late, but a dry April allowed nitrogen to be applied on time. May was cool and damp, with frequent frosts causing significant concern both with herbicide application injury and potential damage during the critical pollination stage. Both of these issues ended up having little impact. Soil borne virus concerns (Wheat Spindle Streak Mosaic, Wheat Soil Borne Mosaic and Wheat Streak Mosaic), caused significant injury in some areas with damage severe in some cases. Temperatures remained conducive to the disease well into June, allowing symptoms to remain evident for an extended period. In most severe cases, the crop was cut for hay and re-planted into edible beans. However, with warmer temperatures in mid June, symptoms lessened and final yield impact was minimal. Cool conditions limited foliar disease pressure throughout the season, but high prices encouraged significant acreage to receive foliar fungicides regardless. In another unusual development, stem rust developed on susceptible varieties late in the season, resulting in lower yields in some cases. Barley Yellow Dwarf Virus was evident at low levels with aphid pressure at low to moderate levels in many fields. European chafer and June Beetle damage continued to impact affected fields, with chafer continuing to move north and east, the hot spot now north of Toronto. Many impacted fields were lost in May and re-planted. Fusarium concerns were high with weather at heading quite variable. Estimates run as high as 67% of the crop sprayed with a heading time fungicide to reduce fusarium.

Harvest

Harvest began in the dry southwest with slightly disappointing yields but excellent quality. As harvest moved north and east, yields increased to "best ever" levels, but frequent rain began to delay harvest, and quality deteriorated correspondingly. Grade discounts because of mildew became common, and the bulk of the soft white crop sprouted with almost 80% sprouts in severe cases. Constant rain began to keep growers out of fields for harvest due to wet soils from Niagara and Toronto east and north. For many growers from Toronto to Ottawa, excellent or even record yields were coupled to extremely poor quality due to poor harvest conditions. Fusarium levels increased as harvest progressed, with the hard red wheat crop particularly affected. Protein levels in the hard red crop were also extremely variable often below premium cut-offs. This low protein was evident in the soft wheat crop, with the lowest protein crop ever as harvest. This low protein works well in many North American soft wheat applications, but is a negative factor for wheat being exported overseas.

Fall 2008

Initial wheat planting expectations were quite low with low prices, a late soybean harvest, and wet soil conditions. However, in the dryer southwest regions, wheat acres were planted rapidly as soybean harvest allowed, in some areas exceeding plantings of 2007. There was little opportunity or push to plant wheat ultra early, especially after the poor outcome of this practice in 2008. Wheat planted by Thanksgiving went into reasonable soil conditions, and has had sufficient heat to be well tillered as winter arrives. Later planted wheat experienced wet and cold conditions and poor growth. In heavy or poorly drained soils this wheat is already showing poor emergence in wet spots or between tile runs, and chances are high that it will not survive well enough to be left next spring. Some growers attempted to re-seed these areas, but continued heavy precipitation has limited chances to accomplish this and reduced chance of success. There has been little chance for late wheat to be planted due to heavy rains and wet soils. Yield potential at this stage will be challenged to maintain trend line levels.

Spring Cereals

Planting

Dry conditions allowed for timely planting into excellent soil conditions in much of the production area. The exception to this was northern Ontario, where wet conditions plagued the crop and planting was extremely late. There was little opportunity for frost seeding this spring as the snow left late and few nights had freezing temperatures after this.

Growing Season

Several bouts of cold night temperatures made timing of weed control more difficult, but most herbicides were applied in a timely fashion. Cool temperatures in the early growing season kept disease pressure at low levels. As crops reached the flag leaf stage, disease pressure increased dramatically with the wet, warm weather that followed. Mildew on wheat, scald on barley and rust on oat were major issues. Genetic resistance to both crown and stem rust in oat broke down in eastern Ontario causing major losses in unsprayed crops. Growers will need to pay particular attention to this issue in 2009. Fusarium risk was extreme in eastern Ontario, but converse to the winter wheat crop, many acres were not sprayed due to poor results in previous years.

Harvest

Wet weather continued throughout grain-fill and into harvest, making the harvest process long and arduous. Some spring wheat still remained to be harvested as late as Thanksgiving. Quality of the crop was negatively impacted by these conditions, with mildew, fusarium and ergot all having impact. In some cases, falling number was significantly reduced as well. The allure of a "Cinderella" year gave way to the reality of decent yields but quality discounts as high as $200/tonne. These harvest struggles, coupled with low prices, will challenge acreage for spring cereals again next spring.

Challenges for 2009

Oat Rust

With the loss of genetic resistance to both stem and crown rust, growers will need to totally reassess management strategies. Performance trial results will not mirror on farm results were fungicides are used. Genetic resistance will need to be improved, and fungicide use re-assessed in light of this development.

Fusarium

The nemesis of wheat production in Ontario, fusarium continues to be the top issue. The need for evaluation of new fungicides, genetic resistance, tolerance and efforts towards better, more objective grading options, have all been reinforced with resulting heightened awareness again this year.

Mildew

The impact of mildew on the milling quality of wheat needs further assessment. While wheat is no longer downgraded to feed on account of mildew, grading standards in the US are much more lax for this issue. The downgrading to grade 3 on account of mildew needs to be reassessed.

Wheat in the Rotation

As wheat acreage increases there will be increased desire to plant wheat in less than ideal rotations, such as wheat following corn, wheat following barley, and wheat following wheat. The impact of these rotations needs to be assessed, along with any management options to mitigate the problems associated with these rotations.

Managing Pest Issues

Aphid pressure, European Chafer, ergot and various virus problems are issues that have surfaced this year. Very little Ontario data exists to support management thresholds or techniques. New products and genetics continue to become available. Management options and thresholds all need to be investigated for many of these pest issues.


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