The Agronomists, Ep 62: Russ Barker and Peter Johnson on assessing winter wheat stands from the air

(Kara Oosterhuis/RealAgriculture)

It’s too early to call time of death on any wheat crop just yet…mostly. The trouble is that wheat, like all crops, is rather valuable right now, and if there’s crop forwarded contracted, it’s important to make sure there’s enough to deliver. But how do you make the call on what’s enough of a crop left to keep it?

Wet conditions in the east last fall has left some fields with drowned out or dead areas, so we’re taking to the air to assess winter wheat stands, with Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson and Russ “Better Crop” Barker.

Catch a new episode of The Agronomists every Monday night at 8 pm E!



  • Russ Barker, Better Crops by Barker, farms near St. Mary’s, Ont. Sells Pioneer Hi-Bred seed and sure does love aerial imagery, from both a UAV/drone and satellite!
  • We’ve got a recent Wheat School talking about the economics of the wheat crop, too
  • Red clover can really outcompete a poor crop, but it could be an option in patchy areas, or maybe we’re at the point where we can plant the clover as the wheat comes off, in stead (single cut, mind you)
  • Clip 1. Jeremy Boychyn on assessing wheat stand survival and plant counts
  • What do you do with dead spots? Options: pollinator mix, mow it down, frost seed in spring wheat
  • It’s feed, though, remember
  • You can use a drone flight, even this early, to get a handle on what the entire field looks like
  • You need to be able to quantify/measure those dead/poor spots to make an informed decision about filling in or taking out the stand
  • Satellite vs. drone polygons? John Sulik says you could downsample a 10 cm pixel drone image to 10 m pixel resolution, which will simulate a satellite image and compare the area measurements. Drone imagery is more precise
  • That video we talked about is here (from John)
  • Why are corn and soybeans like cats? Because they don’t care if you ignore them! Wheat shows you how much you care (or don’t care)
  • Chris asks a great question right at the end of the show that we didn’t get to: What is the management strategy on questionable wheat?
  • Pete says, normally ultra early N is recommended, plus sulphur: 50 N plus 15 S or about 1/3rd of the total N and most or all of the S. This gives the wheat the best chance to tiller this spring, and maximize early growth. However, with tight N supplies and extremely high N prices, growers need to consider if this strategy still fits. It is hard to apply nitrogen to a field that will go to soybeans if the wheat is not good enough to keep.
  • If the field will go to corn (Pete’s preference), apply the N + S immediately (NOT on snow!)
  • If the field will go to soybeans, growers may decide to just take a “wait and see” approach. If this approach is taken, try to make the “keep or destroy” decision as quickly as possible, and if keeping the wheat works, get the fertilizer applied as soon as possible once the decision is made.
  • There is a how-to video on using Sentinel-2 images to get a handle on crop variation, and we’ll add that file here, once we have it uploaded

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