Ontario Winter Wheat Abandonment Expected to be High

Ontario producers may have planted more winter wheat acres this past fall, but they may be harvesting fewer this summer, regardless.

Mainly due to poor planting conditions, it’s possible that 15-20% of the total winter wheat acres planted in the province last fall will be ripped up and seeded to other crops this spring, Dale Cowan, senior agronomist with AGRIS Co-operative, said in an interview Monday. However, the damage will be worse in the heavy clay areas of Essex and Lambton counties, where he estimated that up to 40% of the acres could be abandoned.

“You seldom see more than 10% of the acres not make it (in most years),” Cowan said. “This year, overall in the province, it could 15% or 20% that doesn’t make it.”

Statistics Canada in December pegged Ontario winter wheat planted area for harvest in 2019 at 970,000 acres, up 20,000 from a year earlier. If accurate, Cowan’s estimate suggests that up to 194,000 of those acres will be lost, reducing total area down to 776,000 acres – just above the 13-year low of 700,000 acres in 2015.

Cowan said a relatively poor winter season, which resulted in plenty of ponding and sheets of ice, didn’t do the province’s winter wheat crop any favours, but it was really the wet, soggy and cold conditions during fall that really got the crop off on the wrong foot. Not only did plenty of the crop get planted beyond the ideal seeding window, but there just wasn’t enough heat past about the middle of October to get the crop germinated and emerged. In fact, some crops never emerged at all in the fall, and are still struggling to emerge now.

“It’s no surprise how the wheat crop looks (now), based on that,” he said. “Anything that’s heavy clay, poorly drained or late planted; we just didn’t have much in the way of growing degree days after the middle of October to germinate and emerge the crop.”

Meanwhile, the winter wheat crop isn’t just struggling in Ontario. Michigan and Ohio, which also predominately grow Soft Red Winter, were plagued as well by overly wet weather last fall that forced producers to plant late and into less than ideal conditions. A lack of snow cover, standing water, saturated soils, ice sheets and bouts of extreme cold during the winter only made things worse.

Last week’s USDA crop progress report pegged the Michigan crop at just 25% good to excellent as of April 7, way down from 40% a week earlier and a whopping 38 points below a year earlier. At 29% good to excellent, the condition of the Ohio crop is an even worse 44 points below the previous year.

In the case of both states, abandonment rates are also expected to be above the norm.

Even in those areas in the province where the winter wheat crop was seeded in good time, Cowan said some producers are looking at drowned out areas.

Still, Cowan said the lack of consistent warm weather this spring means the winter crop has been slow to green up and start developing, meaning its difficult yet to get a truly accurate picture of just how good, or bad, it might be. Additionally, he said exceptionally strong straw prices - with some bids up to 10 cents/lb in the windrow – may prompt some producers to try and hang onto as many winter wheat acres as they can.

Source: DePutter Publishing Ltd.

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