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Published December 29, 2010, 09:41 PM

Winter wheat acreage rises

Winter wheat acreage appears to have jumped this year in North Dakota, a state better known for the spring variety.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Winter wheat acreage appears to have jumped this year in North Dakota, a state better known for the spring variety.

“My estimate is, there’s a 30 to 50 percent increase from last year,” said Blake Vander Vorst, regional agronomist with Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck.

Farmers in the state planted 340,000 acres in fall 2009. In contrast, North Dakota farmers planted 6.45 million acres of spring wheat in 2009 and 6.7 million acres in 2010.

Ducks Unlimited, which seeks to enhance duck habitat, works with farmers across the state to increase winter wheat acreage. Fall seeding leads to less disruption in the spring when ducks nest.

Some fields that were too wet to plant in spring 2010 were planted to winter wheat this fall, Vander Vorst said.

A big increase in canola acreage in the state — from 730,000 in 2009 to 1.35 million in 2010 — also encouraged farmers to plant more winter wheat, he says.

Planting winter wheat on newly harvested canola ground sometimes is described by agronomists as “a perfect match” or a “match made in heaven.”

Vander Vorst cautioned that his estimate is unofficial and that the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s next acreage survey might reveal a bigger or smaller increase than what he projects.

Jim Peterson, marketing director for the North Dakota Wheat Commission, also thinks more winter wheat acres were planted this year, though he says he can’t estimate the size of the increase.

Bryan Kenner, who sells winter wheat seed in Maddock, N.D., estimates statewide acreage is up 30 percent from a year earlier.

Wet conditions in fall 2009 hampered farmers in the state from planting winter wheat. That caused acreage to plunge to 340,000 from 580,000 in fall 2008.

Even with a 30 to 50 percent increase this year, 2010 acreage still would be well below the number of acres planted in 2008.

“We’re keeping off a low number,” Peterson said of 2010 plantings and the apparent increase from a year earlier

But keep in mind that 2009 winter wheat acreage, though below that of the previous year, exceeded the number of acres typically grown in the state. In the 1990s, North Dakota’ annual winter wheat acreage ranged from 40,000 to 250,000.

Advantages

Winter wheat brings a number of advantages, Kenner and others say.

“We find that our customers want it because it spreads out their workload,” allowing them to do more work in the fall and less in the spring, he said.

Winter wheat also can yield better than spring wheat, especially on fields where moisture is scarce, he said.

On the downside, winter wheat generally sells for less than spring wheat.

Winter wheat yields in the state averaged a record 55 bushels per acre in 2010, Vander Vorst said.

Kenner, who’s been selling winter wheat since 2004, said interest in the crop will continue to grow.

This fall, Francois Marais joined North Dakota State University as a winter wheat breeder and geneticist.

Developing winter wheat varieties with better disease resistance should further boost interest in growing winter wheat in the state, Peterson said.

Whatever the number of winter wheat acres in the ground in North Dakota, the developing crop generally is well-established, Vander Vorst said.

Winter wheat begins growing after it’s planted in the fall, becomes established and then goes into dormancy when cold weather arrives. It resumes growing in the spring with the return of warmer weather and is harvested in the summer, before other crops.

Minnesota wheat

Winter wheat’s popularity also has been growing in Minnesota, said Dave Torgerson, executive director of the Minnesota Association of Wheat Growers.

Farmers in the state planted about 70,000 acres of winter wheat in 2009. To put that in perspective, the number of winter wheat acres in the state from 2005 to 2005 ranged from 15,000 to 35,000.

Minnesota winter wheat acreage this year probably didn’t increase much from the previous year, he said.

Fall weather this year

wasn’t particularly conductive to planting winter wheat in Minnesota, he said.

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