Wheat School: Assessing economic health of the winter crop

A difficult fall, with too much rain, late planting and reduced acres, made for a tough Ontario wheat crop heading into winter.

As we move into late March, the crop is looking good and RealAgriculture’s resident wheat guru Peter “Wheat Pete” Johnson is enthusiastic about prospects for the crop. On this latest Wheat School episode, Johnson notes that lofty commodity markets and skyrocketing input prices mean growers need to get out and assess both the plant and economic health of the crop.

We catch up with Johnson near Woodstock, Ont., as he looks at early-planted wheat (Oct. 2) as well as wheat planted later on Nov.12. The early-planted wheat is in good shape and all systems are go. In this case, he recommends getting out the drone or accessing some satellite imagery to assess the field to help with management decisions.

See Related: Wheat School: Counting tillers helps determine N strategy

Managing later-planted wheat will require more thought, some arithmetic and a look at your marketing commitments. Johnson is pleased to see the late-planted wheat doing well and growers will have to decide whether they should be putting 50 lbs of nitrogen on the crop or take it out and plant corn or soybeans. That decision will require some marketing mathematics, says Johnson, and will depend heavily on growers commitment to forward contracts. “Normally, wheat is at a 10 percent premium to corn. Now corn is at $8 and wheat is at $12. That’s a 50 percent premium. Wheat finally is King,” crows a joyous Johnson.

In the video, Johnson breaks down the decision and the math on whether it makes sense to invest in a late-planted, borderline wheat crop or make the leap to another crop. (Story continues after the video.)

Johnson also offers advice for many growers who have drowned out spots in their wheat fields, the result of heavy fall rains. His advice here is pretty simple: If the wheat field is good, keep it, but plant something in those drowned spots to control weeds and prevent future issues.

Straw is another issue that will require growers to break down the economics. Johnson says he’s hearing of straw selling for as high as 12 cents per pound. He notes, however, that even at today’s extremely high fertilizer values, there’s no more than three cents of nutrient value in straw. His verdict: “If selling the straw helps makes the economics work and keep the crop… then do it.”

Johnson wraps up with a discussion on why it’s important for growers to try to establish red or crimson clover in the wheat crop this year. He points out that clover can deliver a 75 lb nitrogen credit. “That’s a hundred dollars per acre in nitrogen for next year’s corn crop.”

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