By Connor Lynch
DOVER — Last year’s disappointing winter wheat harvest saw Chatham-area grower Bruce Johnstone get decent yields but low quality wheat. This year is an absolute turnaround.
“The crop was good. (We’re) getting around 110 bushels per acre (and) no problems with quality,” said Johnstone, who grew about 53 acres of winter wheat in Dover Township, just north of Chatham-Kent.
Last year saw lots of rain, especially in Essex, that cut quality so much so that Johnstone said some elevators stopped taking feed quality wheat, and yields were only average at best.
But this year the crop is booming. Johnstone said he’s “heard of other yields in the area up to 140 bushels per acre.”
The laws of supply and demand, however, are notoriously intractable. “The price is falling. It’s a worldwide problem. There’s a surplus of wheat around the world,” said Johnstone, adding that prices in his area have fallen by almost $1 per bushel in the last month and a half.
Real Agriculture agronomist Peter Johnson and OMAFRA cereal specialist Joanna Follings both confirmed that one Western Ontario farm averaged 158 bu/ac. In the best parts of their fields, some growers have reported yields as high as 200 bu/ac.
“It’s an absolute bin buster for most growers,” said Johnson. OMAFRA reports that the average yields for winter wheat across Western Ontario from 2010 to 2014 was 80 bu/acre, and there’s “no doubt in my mind we’ll break 90. The only question is if we’ll get 100.”
Follings added that in addition to fantastic yields, farmers were coming off their harvest as much as two weeks earlier than last year in the more southern parts of Western Ontario, and that growers in Essex had started harvesting as early as the week of June 28 to July 1.
This year’s potentially record-setting yields started with excellent conditions right back to first planting. A mild and dry fall into a similar winter protected the crop from moisture stress, and the wheat thrived in the cooler temperatures it prefers through a cooler-than-average April and May.
“Yields have been exceeding expectations considering the lack of rain,” said Follings, adding that averages across Western Ontario this year are generally between 90 and 120 bu/acre.
The yields certainly took Marc Rivest, a cash crop farmer in Comber, southwest of Chatham-Kent, by surprise. “I was expecting average, below average (yields),” but he ended up pulling around 95 bu/acre off his 120 acres of winter wheat.
And he got an early start, finishing the harvest by July 11, getting high quality wheat with no fusarium and none of it feed quality.
“It was all very good.”