Rural Voice July 15, 2020

Ontario wheat harvest began amid the heatwave experienced at the beginning of July.  The heat combined with the lack of moisture sped up the drying process in mature fields, allowing for some very dry wheat to be delivered to the elevator.  Yield prospects for the wheat crop were great this year, with most fields being planted into good conditions last fall, allowing good establishment and thick wheat stands.  The generally mild winter did not cause winter survivability issues, and other than some areas where spring heaving occurred or where later spring frost affected some fields, the wheat crop was in great shape.  But the season didn’t continue to be perfect to finish the crop to meet everyone’s huge expectations.  The heat came on and with it the rain stopped.  This extreme weather pushed the wheat crop to maturity and took the crop to look more like average.  Wheat just doesn’t perform well in hot weather and high temperatures shorten the grain fill period, affecting yields. 

At the time of writing this article, wheat harvest had just begun through the south end of the province; through Essex county, moving into Kent and also into the Niagara region.  Typically, in a dry year we regularly have heavy test weights in wheat.  Early indications are that this is not uniformly the case with all fields this year, as some samples are grading a low #2 for test weight with a few downgrading to #3 due to light weight kernels.  Rumblings have been that the worst test weights and yields are on the lightest sand grounds.  This makes sense as it is likely that these plants did not meet physiological maturity, but rather died before maturing due to the drought coupled with the heat.  On fields with lighter test weight (which is at risk of losing weight if it is exposed to too much rain)it will be important to get the wheat off the field as soon as reasonably possible in order to prevent it slipping to a lower grade as quality degrades in the field.  Once wheat is ready to be harvested no good can come to it by leaving it in the field. 

Other than test weight issues in some samples as discussed, there are no other quality issues with the wheat crop.  Falling numbers are good so far, and vomitoxin in the crop is pretty much zero as expected, from the dry flowering period and the lack of fusarium growth while the crop was exposed. 

The Soft Red Winter (SRW) crop has been disappointing in many areas south of us in the US.  Reports are that some of the poorest yielding fields were those that were planted early in the fall on prevent plant acres, and that were damaged from the April frosts that happened night over night for about a week.  These same frosts occurred here in Ontario (however most of our wheat wasn’t as vulnerable with the staging of the lifecycle).  The US will be a large consumer of Ontario wheat this year, most especially the Ohio marketplace which has significant usage of SRW.   

The Hard Red Winter (HRW) crop in the US was harvested at rapid pace.  The protein in this wheat was predominately very good over a large portion of the harvest.  About 70% of the crop was in the 11-11.4% protein range.  This high protein level will be good for Hard Wheat millers who often must supplement low protein HRW with expensive Hard Red Spring in their grist, to raise protein levels in the finished flour to make an acceptable and functional flour.  This will save the miller money as they will not need to purchase large amounts of Hard Red Spring wheat, which is typically a premium price to HRW.  For comparison last year only 33% of the HRW crop was 11-11.4%.  Not only is test weight usually attributable to a dry year but also protein.  This defiantly was the result through the Kansas and Oklahoma bread basket this season. 

While the dry growing season has been beneficial to US HRW wheat growing areas, it has caused concern with the corn and soy crops.  Both of these crops were planted into generally great soil conditions, but as they started to grow and the heat came on, they became vulnerable as the soils dried and the crop began to wither; both here and in large swaths of the US.  As the field conditions dried the crop prices responded in typical weather market fashion and rallied to reflect the weather risk potentially affecting final yields.  That is until the crop received some relief and rains fell over large areas of the corn belt.  Immediately with the moisture problem being alleviated the market fell as the moisture risk was removed, at least temporarily.  Corn is entering a critical stage where it needs decent moisture to ensure adequate pollination.  Without good pollination, perfect weather for the rest of the season won’t compensate for the loss of kernel pollination.  Therefore through July the market traded every forecast, with forecast expectations of rain bringing prices under pressure and the removal of rain in the forecasts bringing a bid to market prices.  The US seems to have received adequate rains to establish a decent corn crop this year, “rain makes grain.”




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