In-Season Cereal Management

by | Jan 5, 2021 | Agronomy Solutions

Maximizing strengths and knowing the limitations of cereal genetics on-farm

As we near the spring seeding season, we turn our attention to cereal variety selection. No cereal variety will have a perfect rating for all desired agronomic traits. Therefore, we need to be sure to maximize the strengths, know the limitations of genetics, and adapt best agronomic practices to ensure we can optimize yields and quality at harvest.

Looking forward to 2021, it’s important to know what historic and potential pest pressures are in your area when selecting cereal genetics. Provincial insect pest forecast maps can help you prepare for what’s to come. Some diseases, such as Fusarium Head Blight (FHB) overwinter in the soil, so past pressure can help influence a varietal decision. In these cases, selecting varieties that have a Moderately Resistant (MR) rating to FHB is good practice.

If your farm is in an area which is projected to have increased wheat midge pressure, growing a midge tolerant varietal blend (VB) containing both resistant and refuge crops is best practice. These varieties have stewardship agreements in place to ensure that this resistance is properly managed. Growers can only save seed one generation past certified.

If selecting a disease tolerant or midge tolerant variety, in season agronomy is still important. Varieties which have disease resistant traits will need to be scouted for wheat midge at proper staging. Solid stem varietal blends that have wheat midge tolerance can be more susceptible to disease. If growing these varieties, scouting at T1, T2 and T3 fungicide timings for disease incidence becomes more important.

Pest and disease pressure are only part of the variety selection equation. If we’re looking at straw management and selecting a variety for standability, a shorter semi-dwarf crop makes sense. However, it is important to remember there will not be a lot of straw at the end of the year with these varieties. If a grower is dependent on straw for part of his or her bedding or feeding operations, a semi-dwarf variety likely isn’t going to be the variety of choice for their operation.

Each year, both public and private breeding programs release improved cereal genetics for growers to utilize; however even exceptional genetics require best agronomic practices for optimal performance. Plant breeders select varieties for wide scale release based on the Genotype x Environment (GxE) interaction, growers can identify which of these varieties will be best suited for their area with their management (GxExM).

When selecting the varieties to grow on your farm this year, make sure best agronomic practices are considered at the same time. It’s easier to pencil in a fungicide application now, in the middle of winter, and know your potential maximum cost of production. If conditions don’t dictate a fungicide, it’s easier to save money not applying the fungicide than to make a stressful decision to purchase and apply the same fungicide in the middle of July on short notice if pressures escalate.

Derek Flad

Manager of agronomic services for southern Alberta, Nutrien - Derek Flad is the manager of agronomic services for southern Alberta for Nutrien Ag Solutions. He holds a Masters of Science in Plant Science from the University of Alberta and a Bachelor of science in Agronomy from the University of Saskatchewan.