Old crop becomes new
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.”