Blog: The Wheat Sheaf

Growing winter wheat in the European Union

I recently visited the Netherlands, where I was born, and attended a wheat extension event featuring winter wheat. Unlike Alberta, most of the wheat produced in the EU (excluding FSU) is winter wheat.

The wheat acreage in the EU is around 56 million hectare (ha), the majority of which is winter wheat with the largest producer being France, with mostly soft or feed wheat.

The sowing time is October or November which is way too late for planting winter wheat in Alberta. Typically, winter wheat yields are 5 to 11 t/ha with protein from 9% to 11.5%.

The divergence of yield is a result of seeding time (Winter wheat needs cold nights sand a frozen soil before emergence) and soil type and quantity.
When I was still a farmer 18 years ago in the Netherlands, my yield for winter wheat averaged from 7.5 to 10 t/ha.

The average seeds planted per ha is approximately 170 to225 kg depending on soil type sowing time and the 1000 kernel weight.

According to Tom Wouda of Limagran, the maximum yield that can be achieved is 15 tons per ha, but the last three tons of yield is quite expensive to produce.

Historically, England and the Netherlands have the highest yields of winter wheat. These high yields can be attributed to the use of nitrogen in those two countries. Generally, nitrogen is applied three times for a total of 250 kg N per ha which includes around 25 N available in the soil.

The first application is during the earliest part of spring, when 60 percent of the target 250 kg is applied. The second application, 20 percent of the 250 kg at the second node stage. The final application of 20 percent of the 250 kg is at the flag leaf stage.

Due to the high rates of nitrogen and high yields, a growth regulator is usually sprayed twice.

In England and The Netherlands, disease pressure is much higher compared to Canada thanks to the mild autumn after emergence. There may already be diseases present that require spraying.

The harvest is from June to the end of August or September from the south to the north.

For these countries, the yields are very high. But the high cost of fertilizers and multiple spray applications, makes turning a profit a challenge.

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