By Simon Crouch
RIDGETOWN — If farmers want to keep wheat in their rotations, it is time to get serious about “Big Wheat,” according to agronomist Peter Johnson, often called Wheat Pete.
Johnson claims the range of yields this year from fairly low to record highs in many places prove he is right.
“Big wheat is absolutely where we have to go with the wheat crop, or we are just not going to grow it,” he says. “We have to figure out how to get big yields so we can compete economically with corn and soybeans.”
He believes that includes using fungicides and sulfur, which he says is now a must for wheat in Ontario, and sound management of nitrogen.
Johnson believes that relatively-low wheat prices and unspectacular yields mean many farmers don’t take the crop seriously. They know growing it is good for the soil, but they don’t believe it is making them money.
But he says with yields in some cases topping 140 bu/a in early reports this July the case can be made that, with the right management, a financial and agronomic case can be made to grow wheat.
The pro-wheat crowd is getting support from researchers who question whether farmers who say they don’t make money from wheat are crunching the numbers correctly.
At a recent crop demonstration day at the Ridgetown Campus of the University of Guelph, crop scientist Dave Hooker pointed to research showing increases in the yields of both corn and soybeans when the rotation includes wheat.
There’s a potential profit increase of about $85 per acre, a figure that Hooker believes should be credited to the wheat in the rotation.
Johnson agrees and argues that farmers should set serious targets for the crop.
“We had the best wheat crop we’ve had in my career, because we planted it early,” he says. “I think that is the number one lesson from this year’s wheat crop. You have to learn to put it in the rotation and plant it on time.”
In many areas, soybeans aren’t harvested that soon and sometimes stay in the field for a while, even when they are ready to harvest. Both are factors that push back the planting date of wheat and potentially push down its yield, he said.
Better planning is the solution, Johnson says. He says Ontario often grows 2.5-3-million acres of soybeans but considers 1-million acres of wheat a big crop.
“Why is it that we couldn’t plant 1-million acres of soybeans, plant them first, plant them with a shorter season so in the deep southwest we want to harvest them by Sept. 25 at the latest, and treat them like an edible bean?” he wonders. “We grow amazing wheat after edible beans.”
The bottom line is not short term, Johnson says. “You put wheat in the rotation, you get 5.5-6 bu/ac more soybeans, you get more corn, it just all works,” he says. “If you put that into the wheat equation, it’s economical. It is so much better in terms of soil health. We have to realize wheat has to be in the rotation.”