A Ducks Unlimited research team counts a clutch of duck eggs in winter wheat.
Take a crop that’s new to an area and throw in some genetic variation and a pair of mallard ducks. What do you get? Profits and duck eggs, if Bayer CropScience and Ducks Unlimited have anything to do with it.
Fresh green winter wheat makes ideal springtime nesting habitat for ducks, since these fields remain undisturbed compared to the tractor and planter activity in spring wheat fields.
The difference is drastic: Nest hatching success is up to 24 times greater in the winter wheat fields, according to Blake Vander Vorst, senior agronomist for Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck, N.D. The project area of this unique program, called Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action, is spread out over the eastern halves of South and North Dakota and into parts of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba, Canada. That’s prairie wildfire-like growth considering this cooperative project started in just three counties in South Dakota and six in North Dakota two years ago.
And that’s not all. Since 2009, this partnership has been building a working model for agricultural sustainability. Using a complex systems approach with traditional and new measurement tools like ROI ratios, cost-benefit, risk and life cycle analysis that is tweaked with natural resource values, the Winter Cereals program just might become the template for showing added-value benefits that determine the "sustainability" of an activity or business. In an area where 70% of all North American waterfowl nest, the collective benefits for Bayer, Northern Plains farmers and the ducks could be huge.
Emphasizing Bayer’s global cereals business, Alan Ayers, Bayer CropScience director of state affairs/stewardship, noted Bayer’s commitment to wheat growers in North America in the future and to its current efforts in winter wheat expansion. Ayers said, "We will need to increase our yield productivity on less land and not encroach on our forests and native prairies."
He said that introducing winter wheat in the Northern Plains is an opportunity to increase overall wheat yields by taking advantage of the drier planting season in the fall in areas that might not get planted due to wet spring weather.
Also, DU’s research has shown that winter wheat yields have been 10% to 30% higher than spring-planted varieties. DU’s Vander Vorst noted that planting winter wheat was a good way for farmers to keep their crop insurance eligibility. Wet spring weather in this "pothole" country frequently keeps farmers from getting in a spring wheat crop. They may not be eligible for prevent plant coverage on acres that have not been planted and harvested in at least one of the four years. Putting in a winter wheat crop increases the chance to meet the compliance standard.
The Winter Cereals initiative has entered into agreements with South Dakota State University, North Dakota State University and the University of Minnesota to develop new winter wheat varieties that would contain winterhardiness traits as well as traits for yield, disease resistance, higher grain quality and shorter straw.
How popular is winter wheat becoming in the Northern Plains? According to the USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), winter wheat acreage was up 22% this year in South Dakota and farmers in North Dakota and Montana increased their acreage by 3% and 7%, respectively. NASS data also shows that North Dakota had a 17% yield advantage over spring wheat during the 11-year period of 1999 through 2009.
Bayer CropScience’s Ayers summed up the Winter Cereals: Sustainability in Action program by saying, "This is all about applying new innovation and technology to boost a triple bottom line. We want to give growers options."
To learn more about the benefits of adding winter wheat to your crop rotation and how to grow it in the Northern Plains, check out the new website www.wintercereals.us.