On the farm: the 2016 crop year in review

Every year is different on Kevin Elmy's farm. This year: cover crops, soybeans and rain

The good thing about farming is two years are rarely alike. 2016 started out a bit on the dry side, with close to ideal subsoil moisture. The occasional May shower did not delay seeding much.

About 20 per cent of our acres were seeded in the fall of 2015 to Luoma winter triticale, which helped reduce the spring stress level. Fifteen per cent of our land is seeded to alfalfa that we cut for hay, and we have a small field of sainfoin that we are learning how to grow for seed production.

We started seeding on May 18, which is fairly normal for us. The first plot we seeded was sweet corn.

In 2015, we started up a new brand, Cover Crops Canada. This umbrella group has retailers from LaCrete, Alta., to Winkler, Man. Becoming an authorized importer seemed the logical way to speed up seed imports.

We seeded two SeCan soybean varieties this year: Mahony R2 and Barron R2X. Mahony R2 is a medium maturing (003 Relative Maturity) and the Barron R2X is a new Xtend soybean with a rating of 0008 Relative Maturity. A flat tire on our tractor on Saturday night, rain Monday, delayed seeding, but we got the rest of the soybeans in by June 1.

Next on the list was to seed our corn plot. On June 10, we got the grazing corn field seeded, along with our corn grazing variety trial. Then the monsoon season started.

Cover crop seeding

Cover crop seeding was next on the list. The biggest weed issue on our farm is RoundUp Ready canola. We found light tillage works well to control it. But between rains, the canola just kept germinating, causing us to delay seeding. We finally got seeding on June 28. The first field seeded was a demonstration plot of cover crop species.

Then the field scale seeding began. My main blend was red proso millet, Japanese millet, pearl millet, sorghum Sudan, sugar beet, forage collards, crimson clover, safflower, and phacelia that we were planning on using as a greenfeed crop.

More showers delayed seeding, until we finally wrapped up on July 9, with 350 acres seeded in 12 days.

Winter triticale was ready to harvest first. I’ve learned that chicory will overwinter, the triticale crop needs to be swathed instead of straight cut. Swathing, for the last few years, creates rain.

Once started, harvest went relatively smoothly. Test results showed 28 per cent fusarium infection and eight ppm vomitoxin. There goes seed potential. We’ve decided to take the year off of winter cereals and will wait for the environment to dry out before getting back into any cereal grain production.

Soybeans

Soybeans looked good all summer everywhere I went. There were few issues, minus flooding and hail. From our past experience, spraying fungicide has not been cost effective.

Our soybean harvest started at the normal time. Both varieties matured within a couple of days of each other, so I have rated the Barron R2X to be more like a 002 relative maturity instead of 0008. We have been growing 003 maturity soybeans from Day 1, and have had no issues on maturity. But we have been screening for varieties that are more determinant versus heat-requiring varieties. On cool years, the heat loving varieties require the heat units that they are rated for, where the more determinant types will mature when night temperatures start to drop, or daylight hours decrease. Overall, soybeans averaged 32 bushels per acre, based on seeded acreage. We did lose some acres to flooding, again.

It’s been seven years since we have purchased nitrogen for our farm. On 1,500 acres, we normally buy $5,000 to $7,000 worth of a phosphate potassium blend, which I can see dropping in the near future. Between cover crops and soybeans, our fertilizer requirement is dropping, and our soil tests are maintaining or building.

Next year, we will continue growing soybeans, continue with corn grazing and short term alfalfa in our rotation, and continue screening species for cover crop use.

Here’s to a “normal” 2017.

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