Assessing Winter Wheat Stands Challenging Growers

A late fall and continued weather issues may test decision-making processes.

At a time of year when most growers would rather be out on the land or at prepping their planters or drills, conditions in the early spring have limited most people to bide their time and manage what they can.

In Eastern Canada, the weather last fall not only made harvesting corn difficult, it also complicated matters for most wheat growers as well, with cool, damp and wet conditions that left wheat stands heading into winter under less-than ideal shape. A slow transition from winter to spring combined with continued cool and rainy weather have many growers considering switching some of their wheat fields to corn or in fewer instances, to soybeans.

The most important thing in assessing wheat fields at this point in the season is for a farmer to get out of the truck and walk the field. Monitoring or making decisions about the health of a wheat crop cannot be done from the road. Visually inspect the field by walking it or have aerial footage provide imagery.

Above all, the advice from agronomists and crop advisors is to wait as long as possible before making the switch to another crop. Give your wheat every possible opportunity to recover from this late start. If you’re considering switching to corn, wait until a few days before the ground is fit before making that decision.

Other Considerations

In Western Canada, an equally slow changeover from winter to spring has slowed cropping plans but much the same advice applies to those with winter wheat stands in their fields. As the waiting game continues, take an opportunity to monitor other developments in the field. For instance, try to determine the performance of your weed management strategy.

Again, in recognition of the tougher-than-normal conditions as the wheat crop emerges from dormancy, one suggestion is that growers might boost their N rates. The proviso is that those higher N-rate applications typically come as part of a split-application program.

Those opportunities may not come this spring.

The other fertility issue that’s worth examining is the benefit of adding sulphur to fertilizer blends, primarily for growers in Eastern Canada, which has seen an impressive improvement in environmental conditions between 1990 and 2010, especially where pollution from sulphur dioxide is concerned. In 2011, research data found a potential increase of 5.1 bu/ac with sulphur added to fertilizer applications. In 2012, research indicated a 2.5 bu/ac increase.

Overall research data have determined that a rate of 10 lbs of N per acre is the point at which winter wheat will achieve peak productivity.

The forms of sulphur will dictate the formulation and rates that can be applied while keeping costs in mind. If using ammonium sulphate (NH4SO4), the desired amount is 40 lbs, which is equivalent to 10 pounds of actual sulphur. If using ammonium thiosulphate ((NH4)2S2O3), use three gallons to reach that same 10-pound equivalent.


One of the biggest complaints about wheat is that its value is generally regarded as less than that of corn or canola, which may be a justification for bin-running the crop, particularly in the West. However, “value” is often only equated with the price per bushel. The total value of wheat seldom includes the value of its nitrogen credit available to subsequent crops and the revenues generated by selling the straw.

Wheat’s value is also reflective of the effort growers put into managing it for higher yields and better quality.

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