Winter wheat production in western Canada – opportunities and obstacles
No-till seeding into standing stubble from a previous crop has proven to be a successful method of overwintering wheat on the Canadian prairies. Snow trapped by the standing stubble essentially eliminates the risk of winterkill if cultivars with a high level of winter hardiness are grown using recommended management practices. When combined with recent plant breeding improvements, the major limitations due to winter survival, lodging, crop residue management, and rust susceptibility are now no longer barriers to winter wheat production on the Canadian prairies. In recent years, winter wheat production has grown to become western Canada’s third largest wheat class. Average commercial yields of 149, 125, and 118 percent of spring wheat in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta, respectively, in the twelve year period from 1999 to 2010 has demonstrated its high grain yield potential. The 10 to 15 percent yield increase of recently released Canada Western General Purpose class cultivars indicates that opportunities exist for continued advances in production potential. No-till winter wheat embraces the philosophies of conservation farming by providing the opportunity for a) reducing the rate of soil degradation, b) efficient crop moisture utilization, c) avoidance of seeding problems on late, wet springs, d) reduced tillage, e) increased competition with summer annual weeds resulting in reduced pesticide use and selection pressure for herbicide resistance, f) early harvest, g) less disturbance to wildlife, especially waterfowl and upland game birds. A high commercial grain yield also provides the opportunity enormous increases in production potential while employing a production system that fits into the objectives of sustainable agriculture. In light of current concerns with changing weather patterns, diminishing world wheat reserves and an ever increasing number of mouths to feed, one would assume that winter wheat production in western Canada would be widely embraced. However, marketing obstacles, which have a direct influence on farmers’ net returns, remain to be overcome before this potential will be fully realized.
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