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Old crop becomes new

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Not many years back, Don and
Edith Bauman and a couple of their neighbors were the only farmers growing
winter wheat around Roseglen, North Dakota.

That’s changed. This crop,
familiar to wheat growers farther south, is cropping up on farms all around them
and across North Dakota.

“In recent years the yields
have been good, and the profitability per acre has been even higher than that
of spring wheat,” says Kent McKay, Extension agronomy specialist at the North
Dakota State University North Central Research Extension Center.


Whipping winterkill woes

Northern farmers shied away
from winter wheat in the days when they had to seed the crop into blackened
summer fallow. With no standing residue to trap snow or shelter seedlings,
winterkill was common.
 

However, improved equipment
design and better stubble management have downsized winterkill risk.

“It’s possible we could have
winterkill this year because of our dry conditions going into winter,” says Don
Bauman. “But we’ve been growing winter wheat for 10 years, and we’ve never had
a problem with it.”

Winter wheat normally makes
up 15% to 20% of the Baumans’ rotation, which includes durum, barley, field
peas, lentils, chickpeas, canola, and sometimes spring wheat. “Winter wheat has
replaced most of our barley and spring wheat acreage,” says Don.

They no-till winter wheat
into standing stubble in early September. Typically, they seed into canola
stubble, but they’ve also seeded into durum or spring wheat stubble.

“To provide shelter for the
wheat, we try to leave as much stubble standing as our seeding equipment can
handle,” he says. “With canola stubble, the taller the better. But when we plan
to plant winter wheat into spring wheat or durum stubble, we try to leave about
a foot of stubble standing.”


Yields, lower inputs fuel profits

Most years, winter wheat
makes more money for the Baumans than other cereals do. “A much higher yield,
compared to spring wheat, is the biggest reason for its higher profitability,”
he says. “But lower inputs also are a contributing factor.”

The Baumans typically spend
less money to control weeds in winter wheat. “Winter wheat is so competitive,”
he says. “It establishes itself in the fall and gets going in the spring before
most weeds start growing.”

McKay concurs. “In general,
fields of winter wheat that have been seeded at the optimum time in the fall
and have gotten off to a good start compete well with weeds,” he says. “A high
percentage of those fields don’t need to be sprayed for grassy weeds like
foxtail or wild oats.”

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Standing stubble is a must
for growing winter wheat in northern climates. The stubble traps snow, which
protects the plant’s crown root from 

bitter weather. 

Winter wheat is prone to
scab, but normally the susceptible plant- growth stage doesn’t coincide with
the infective stage of the disease.

“We apply fungicides to our
other cereal crops an average of four out of five years,” says Don. “But with
winter wheat, we apply a fungicide about one year out of five.”

Winter wheat also spreads
workload. They’re able to harvest it in midsummer before other crops.

“Because Edith and I handle
our work without outside help, an important advantage to growing winter wheat
is that it lets us seed some of our land in the fall,” Don says. “That helps to
relieve the pressure in the spring, when it’s such a rush to get all the crops
seeded on time.”

Learn more

• Kent McKay  | 
701/857-7679  |  kent.mckay@ndsu.edu

www.ag.ndsu.nodak.edu/minot/

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