By Connor Lynch
LAKESHORE — Ontario’s woeful winter wheat crop may have an unexpected boon for some producers. But for many, winter wheat was just there for the rotation.
Cash crop farmer Charles McLean, who farms at Lakeshore in northern Essex County, said winter wheat had a rough season from start to finish. It was often late to go in, since soybean harvest was delayed by wet weather last fall. “It seemed to just lie in a cold, wet soup.” Fields struggled to emerge, and the cold wet spring has just made matters worse. Neither of his fields of wheat are going to be worth harvesting, he said. In his area, there are very few fields that are even worth considering harvesting, he said.
Agronomist Peter Johnson, wheat’s most vociferous defender, said it might be the worst winter survival he’s seen in over 30 years.
The long months of wet weather were just too much for the wheat. “It was a harsh fall, harsh winter, and a tough spring. Wheat hates wet feet, and it’s had five months of wet feet.”
Some of the wheat that was managing to emerge was just emerging by the second-last week of April.
The damage is going to be worse than it’s ever been, though maybe not as bad as some fear, Johnson said. “I’ll be surprised if we don’t lose 20 per cent of the crop,” although others have predicted losses as high as 40 per cent. Lambton, Essex and Niagara all have some of the worst losses, owing to their heavy clay soils that retain moisture.
There may be a boon for some growers. Wheat grain is never the most profitable crop in a standard cash crop operation. But the straw can be surprisingly valuable, and this year prices seem, in some cases, unbelievably high, Johnson said.
Poor grain yields mean straw yields probably won’t be great either, he said. But he’s heard of baled wheat straw selling for as much as 15 cents per lb. at auction. Wheat grain sells for around 10 cents/lb.
Most farmers probably won’t be able to sell their straw for that much. But even selling the straw for 8 cents/lb. up to 10 cents/lb. is in the realm of possibility.
The key, of course, is demand. Dairy farmers, both in Ontario and the northern United States, want the straw for roughage and bedding, and they have few alternatives. Ontario’s dismal wheat crop is cutting the supply of straw, pushing prices up.
A few growers will get as much as 4,000 lb./acre straw yield, he said. But most are likely going to get closer to 2,000 lb./acre. At 10 cents a lb., that’s $200/acre for straw.