Winter Cereals: Good for Farmers and Ducks
by Kim Kiel and Joy Gregory, Ducks Unlimited Canada
Undisturbed nesting, attractive cover, and high nest success rates are
three reasons why North American Waterfowl Management Plan partners are
excited about fall-seeded cereals. Farmers like the good yields, crop
quality, and spreading out their workload with early September seeding
dates and a mid-August harvest.
Planting winter cereals, such as winter wheat, is definitely a win-win
situation. "The ability to emerge and out-compete weeds, such as wild
oats, can save farmers up to $15.00 per acre on herbicide costs," says
Barry Bishop, an agrologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada (DUC).
Fall-seeded crops offer residual spring ground cover and minimal spring
disturbance, both beneficial for nesting waterfowl, upland birds, and
other wildlife. "These fields average around one duck nest per 10 acres
and that's considerably better than you'd find in any other annual cropping
system," said Bishop, who works with soil conservationists and commodity
groups to promote winter cereal production on direct-seeded land in the
Aspen Parkland Region of central Alberta.
Besides enhancing nesting opportunities for waterfowl, the endorsement
of winter cereals is helping DUC implement the three visions outlined
in the Plan's 1998 update. Partnerships are developing with several producer
groups in Alberta. In association with the Alberta Reduced Tillage Initiative
and the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission, DUC hopes to increase
the Province's acreage of fall-seeded crops. By working closely with these
groups, DUC and the producers keep abreast of the latest winter cereal
research and studies.
More partnerships means a greater impact on the landscape at large. "Within
our priority landscapes, there is going to be cultivation. The more we
can encourage conservation farming, the more wildlife will benefit," said
Brett Calverley, Alberta Plan coordinator and DUC biologist. "Winter cereals,"
noted Calverley, "are in step with the Plan's promotion of sustainable
Research by the Canadian Wildlife Service in southern Alberta indicates
that conservation farming practices (including direct seeding and planting
winter wheat) enhance biodiversity. In addition to providing protective
cover for waterfowl, winter wheat and other minimum till crops are beneficial
to a variety of grassland songbirds. Horned lark, savannah sparrow, Baird's
sparrow, and chestnut-collared longspur have shown a preference for minimum
till and winter wheat crops in southern Alberta. It is, however, the benefits
to farmers that make winter wheat an excellent program to promote conservation
"In general, my winter wheat crops have consistently out-yielded Canadian
Prairie spring wheat," said Mel Erickson, who has grown winter wheat in
central Alberta for 5 years. He expects more farmers will try winter cereals
in an effort to maximize efficient use of their equipment and bank the
cost of wild oat herbicide.
"The experience of farmers who've grown winter cereals for several years
underlines our approach to the topic," explained Bishop. "We think these
crops are agronomically feasible and economically strong and we know they
enhance wildlife habitat. The bottom line is profitability and a healthier
environment for us all."
For more information, contact Barry Bishop, Ducks Unlimited Canada,
5015-49 Street Camrose, Alberta T4V 1N5, (780) 672-6786, email@example.com.