2012 Cereals Seasonal Summary
Table of Contents
Technical information can 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.
Challenging fall 2011 weather meant only 575,000 acres of wheat were planted before October 31st. Cold, wet conditions in late October resulted in thin stands and "tile run" wheat. Record acreage was then seeded in November and faired much better, with good soil conditions at planting and dry conditions that followed, proving that seeding date is not the only driving factor in wheat production. Final wheat acreage, including November wheat, was 725,000 acres! Winter was the winter that wasn't, with little snow cover and grower concerns over both cold injury and lack of "dormancy". Both of these concerns were no issue. Spring came early and fast in mid March, kicking the winter crop out of dormancy, and allowing spring cereal crops to be planted early into excellent conditions. Repeated frosts throughout late March and April showed significant visual damage to the winter crop, with dry conditions (40% of normal rainfall) from March to May causing the crop to be abnormally short. June brought nearly normal rainfall, dramatically improving kernel set and grain fill in winter crops, but a return to dry weather in July added to concerns in the spring crop.
Despite the weather vagaries experienced, final yields ended up well above expectations: winter wheat achieved trend line yield, 81.6 bu/ac (5.5 t/ha), spring wheat was 19% above average, 57.5 bu/ac (3.9 t/ha), and spring cereals (barley, oat, mixed grain) were 8% above average, 69 bu/ac (3.2 t/ha). These results reinforce the value of early planting for spring cereals, and that cereals are dry weather crops. Quality was excellent with virtually no fusarium. There were a few challenges with sprouting where harvest was delayed in white wheat, and also in spring wheat, which was surprising. It appeared that the extremely dry weather had almost "predisposed" the wheat crop to drop any dormancy factor, resulting in sprouting with the first rainfall. Protein issues were a major concern in the hard red winter crop, with a very high proportion not making close to 11% protein: some as low as 8%. High yields in the spring wheat crop meant lower proteins for some growers as well, especially if nitrogen rates did not increase accordingly. Straw is in high demand, now commanding 4 to 5 cents/pound in the swath.
Fall 2012 conditions were excellent, with ~950,000 acres of winter wheat seeded by October 31st. The majority of this wheat was planted in September and looks excellent, with cool damp conditions through October limiting aggressive fall growth. Wheat continues to be planted into November, as grower experience and acceptance of this practice has been very positive, although it is beyond the Agricorp deadline. Hard red acreage has slipped to 10% of the crop, from 15% in 2011, as price premiums have eroded in response to ongoing protein issues. Contract specifications now include the requirement for >10.5% protein in this market class. Soft white acreage slipped to 6% of the crop, from 7% last year.
Spring cereal acreage rebounded nicely in 2012: Spring Wheat 95,000 acres (+18%), Oat 65,000 acres (+18%), Barley 125,000 acres (+14%) and Mixed Grain 90,000 acres (flat). Excellent early planting conditions and the demand for straw drove the return to spring cereal acres.
Dryer weather in 2012 resulted in significantly different response to management inputs than in 2011. Sulphur response was much lower and less consistent. The search for a tool to determine the need for sulphur has proven much more elusive than originally hoped, and will take considerably more research and effort. Fungicide response was much lower in most locations in 2012: dry weather prevented any disease issues from causing yield reductions. As always, the challenge with fungicide application is that the value is determined by weather after the fungicide is applied, which is impossible to predict. While some growers are using 3 fungicide applications, there is little value in more than 2 well timed fungicide applications in cereal production in Ontario.
Nitrogen response continues, with 120 lbs N/ac (134 kg/ha) being the optimum rate at most locations in 2012, down from 150 (167 kg/ha) in 2011. Timing of nitrogen applications had little impact, in contrast to 2011 when delayed N applications showed tremendous benefit. Dry spring weather caused little nitrogen loss, allowing ultra early N applications to be successful. This strategy has higher risk, and is not recommended as a general practice. Some research plots indicated more benefit than usual to split N applications: as we increase management intensity, the benefit to split applications may become more viable. Fall nitrogen applications, however, continue to be of no value, effectively throwing half of the money spent on fall N away, despite the different growing conditions between the two years.
Lower proteins in both the hard red winter and hard red spring crops can be solved by higher N applications. While timing of application and nitrogen source can both improve protein levels somewhat (~0.75%), the driving force continues to be total N application. In research plots with hard red winter, applications of 180 lbs N/ac (200 kg/ha) increased proteins very significantly over the 120 lb N rate.
Poor residue spread behind the combine continues to plague cereal production. In heavy residue zones, early planted wheat has gone off colour as of ~November 10th. Emergence is slower, and root growth is greatly reduced. This is particularly obvious in fields were bean straw was baled off: impressive growth occurs where there is no residue, while swaths laden with pods prevent proper seed depth placement, keep soils damp and cool, and greatly reduce emergence and growth. While this example is the extreme, the majority of wheat fields suffer from this problem. Tillage is not the answer in this scenario: great wheat crops start with perfect residue spread patterns behind the combine. After market choppers may be the only way to address this issue is some situations.
Research is ongoing to find improved management techniques for cereal crops, to make them more competitive in Ontario cropping systems.
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