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Banding Together for Waterfowl

Winter Wheat: The Duck-Friendly Crop

New partnership is a win-win for farmers and waterfowl
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Nest in winter wheat
Winter wheat provides good upland nesting cover for ducks on intensively farmed landscapes. / Credit: Scott Stephens, DU
During the early years of DU's promotion of winter wheat, staff diligently studied the benefits from both agronomic and economic perspectives. Results showed winter wheat had several advantages for producers. Planting both winter and spring crops spread the workload and reduced production risks. When best management techniques were employed, winter wheat consistently provided greater yields than spring wheat, which was important to overcome price discounts for winter wheat. These positive results combined with research, promotion, and assistance from agronomists helped winter wheat buck the trends. While acreage of all other wheat types on the prairies has declined during the past 10 years, winter wheat acreage has increased. The North Dakota Natural Resources Trust; North Dakota Game and Fish; and South Dakota Fish, Wildlife and Parks provided critical financial support during early winter wheat efforts.

Over time, the success of winter wheat started to get noticed. Several crop protection companies began to provide support for grower incentives, research, and demonstration plots. Then in 2008, a significant breakthrough occurred. Bayer CropScience encouraged us to “think big” and challenge them with an investment that would take winter wheat to the next level across the U.S. and Canadian prairies. In 2009, we formed a business partnership with a long-term goal of 11.6 million acres planted annually in winter wheat on the U.S. and Canadian prairies. This partnership was coined Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action. Reaching the 11.6 million-acre goal would contribute approximately 2 million ducks to the fall flight each year. Since winter wheat is part of a no-till rotational cropping system, it also improves soil health, sequesters carbon, and reduces runoff in nearby lakes, rivers, and wetlands. Both DU and Bayer share a commitment to stewardship, and winter wheat is a promising crop for achieving sustainable land use on the prairies.

Currently, there are approximately 2.3 million acres of winter wheat on the U.S. and Canadian prairies, so reaching our long-term goal is no small task. Our winter wheat partnership is tackling this challenge in many ways. Most producers and agronomists agree the primary limitation on winter wheat acres is a lack of varieties with increased cold hardiness. Improving yield, grain quality, and disease resistance would also increase the appeal of growing winter wheat. Bayer CropScience and DU are developing partnerships with the University of Saskatchewan, Agriculture and AgriFood Canada, North Dakota State University, South Dakota State University, and the University of Minnesota to pursue improved varieties.

Like any emerging product or idea, getting the word out is vital to increasing winter wheat production on the prairies. Our winter wheat partnership is doing that by putting more agronomists on the ground across the pothole region, especially in North Dakota. These agronomists work directly with producers to advocate including winter wheat in crop rotations, provide technical advice, and serve as conduits for the latest information. They also work with producers, university extension agents, agricultural supply companies, and a variety of other partners to conduct field trials demonstrating products and techniques that reduce risk and improve yields. Communications staff with DU and Bayer have increased efforts with the media and at trade shows to improve awareness of the partnership and sustainability platform.

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