The Prairie Giants Crop Report

Field observations at your fingertips

April 24, 2023

Taylor Kurtenbach

Fall & Winter Cereal Spring Guide

There are many advantages to incorporating a fall/winter cereal into your crop rotation. These include high yields, less inputs potentially needed, a spread-out workload, and weed control. For those that seeded winter wheat or hybrid fall rye last year, the time to start assessing survivability, and planning for the remainder of the season, is fast approaching. 
Assessing Plant Stands
Both winter wheat and fall rye start breaking dormancy when temperatures at the crown are consistently above 0°C[1][2], currently soil temperatures are hovering around 0°C. Early in the season, when temperatures are still cool, there will be minimal above ground growth so need to check for root growth. Roots that are white in appearance, and have soil attached to the root hairs indicate healthy, living plants[1][2]. Alternatively, you can also dig plants up, bring them inside, keep soil moist and check for new root growth after 5-7 days[2]. At the beginning of spring, it is important to note that green leaves don’t correlate to survivability, just like brown leaves doesn’t mean winter injury. Hilltops of the field are the most vulnerable to winter kill. Fall rye has good winter hardiness but does not like standing water. Plants that are under these conditions are less likely to survive[1].

Once the stands have greened up, plant stand counts should be done. Ideal counts are:
  • Fall Rye – 17 plants per square foot but can be viable at 10-12 plants per square foot[1].
  • Winter Wheat – 20-25 plants per square foot but can still yield 80% of a normal stand at 5-8 plants per square foot[2].
The most important factor is a uniform plant stand; both plants can compensate lower stands by tillering.

Check out the following link for more information, including some great photos from FP Genetics:

It is recommended to have majority of fertility, especially for fall rye, applied in the fall[3]. Nitrogen top ups in winter wheat can be applied in spring based on estimated losses[4]. Spring applications should be applied as early as possible, as both plants use majority of nitrogen early in the growing season. Fall rye uses 90-95% of total nitrogen, where as winter wheat uses between 30-40%, at stem elongation timing[3][4].

Weed Control
Both crops are great weed competitors, especially once established. Due to this, many times an early spring herbicide application is not necessary. Fall applications should be done to control winter annuals and perennials with a pre-burn application. Fall rye has allelopathic properties, which reduces the ability for weed seeds to germinate[1]. An in-crop herbicide should still be applied in winter wheat for control of wild oats and spring germinating broadleaves.

Disease Management
A fungicide application is often not necessary in fall rye but can be beneficial in winter wheat. Winter wheat is susceptible to the same disease spectrum as spring wheat, so disease management is important[5]. Since it is susceptible to fusarium head blight, a fungicide application should be made at head timing. Fall rye is prone to ergot. Avoiding tramping the crop, like with a spring herbicide application, can help decrease the risk for ergot[1].
[1] FP Genetics. Hybrid Fall Rye Production Field Management. [Online] Available:
[2] Government of Manitoba. Assessing Winter Wheat Survival. [Online] Available:
[3] FP Genetics. Hybrid Fall Rye Production Seeding. [Online] Available:
[4] Government of Manitoba. Fertilizing Winter Wheat. [Online] Available:
[5] Government of Manitoba. Winter Wheat – Production and Management. [Online] Available:

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