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My 2017 crop year in review

It was dry, but still a good year at Kevin Elmy’s Friendly Acres Seed Farm in eastern Saskatchewan

For the producers that wanted a drier year, we definitely got that in 2017. Between 2009 and 2016, we received just under 200 inches (500 mm) of rain, so a year with “normal” rain would have been well received. 2017 delivered 2-1/2 inches (63 mm), and two-thirds of that came in the beginning of June. One extreme to the next.

May did look fairly promising. The soil was moist, dry enough to get out on the land early May. This year we seeded AAC Delight spring triticale, Barron R2X and Mahony R2 soybeans, an alfalfa trial, a grazing corn trial, sweet corn, a new non-GMO canola, and an array of cover crops.

Seeding

Seeding went relatively smoothly, we only had to use the tow strap a couple of times, which was a nice change over the last few years. The first part of June was cool so we decided to delay weed control in the corn and soybeans. Some of the volunteer canola ended up getting a little too big for consistent control, especially in the low land, so we had a few escapes.

In mid-June we seeded cover crops, including our strip trials. The field-scale blends we used incorporated Japanese millet, Pearl millet, proso millet, non-GMO corn, sugar beet, safflower, Phacelia, berseem clover, crimson clover, Bullseye radish and collards. The intent was to sell an early cut of silage and then provide food for the soil microbes and earthworms.

I had four rows as a marker of brown mid rib corn variety that we grazed off. The BMR corn was consistently grazed better than the other varieties in all of the paddocks.
photo: Kevin Elmy

Because the early June rains were the last of the growing season, growth of the cover crop was sporadic. We decided to run over the acres with the hay bine to clip the growth, returning it all back to the soil without creating a seeding issue next spring. By returning all the production back to the soil, we will increase our soil microbe population, and our nutrient levels will be elevated, along with increasing organic matter and more soil armour. As the plant material was still green, the lignin content will be relatively low, and sugar content will be high, so it will rot down quickly in the spring. Our cash income is reduced, but the future cash expense is also reduced.

The cover crop was direct seeded into winter triticale that had volunteered from two years ago. Because the field was intended to be silaged, the volunteer triticale was left to add more biomass. The plan was to allow the triticale to head out, get to flowering, and then roll it. Rolling would pinch the stem and cause the plant to die. Due to there being some foxtail barley in it, we sprayed the fields with glyphosate. Once the winter triticale died, due to it being into the reproductive stage and lignin started to fully develop, it added to the soil armour. This armour protected the seedlings from the hot dry summer. Did it use too much moisture on some of the land? Maybe. It did reduce the evaporation by covering the soil. This will also help manage salinity by limiting evaporation.

This was my first attempt at seeding green. It worked well.
photo: Kevin Elmy

The crops

The soybeans did respectively well considering the year. Our average was 24 bushels per acre across all seeded acres. Around Yorkton where they received some July and August rains, yields were around 30 bushels per acre, then south of Canora, yields were reported just over 40 bushels per acre. This is our first experience with XtendiMax (glyphosate and dicamba) on a large scale. Where the canola was sprayed at the right stage, control was quite good. Where the canola got too large, we had escapes. With the media reports of drift and tank-cleaning issues, we had some reservations about the product. Following application recommendations, we had very little non-target crop damage. There was evidence of some damage on some sainfoin.

Key points to application of dicamba: use coarse or ultra-coarse droplet size, spray when weeds are small, keep ground speed under 15 m.p.h., keep water volumes over 10 gallons per acre, and do not spray when temperatures get over 24 C.

The grazing corn took a production hit this year. With no rain during silking, seed set was reduced. Corn is drought tolerant to a point, but no rain is no rain. Cows are grazing the field currently so there is no estimate of the tonnage. Other silage corn in the area this year was running around 12 tonnes per acre, or about three dry tonnes per acre, which should average out to around 200 grazing days per acre. Dow Seeds is launching its Enlist program this year so it will be interesting to see how that system works in the field. We had a conventional corn trial in this year. There are no legitimate conclusions to make considering the growing season.

Corn is drought tolerant to a point,but no rain is no rain. Cows are grazing the field currently so there is no estimate of the tonnage.
photo: Kevin Elmy

Next year’s plan

In 2018, the plan is to grow more spring triticale, trial more conventional corn varieties, have similar acres of cover crops, try growing some perennial ryegrass for seed production, and continue with Mahony R2 and Barron R2X soybeans, sainfoin and alfalfa in rotation. One field of cover crop will be an experiment where we seed once and get two years out of it by including festulolium, chicory and serradella.

The other research projects will include the use of humates, calcium, and potentially some hydrolyzed fish. I attended Nicole Master’s course in Saskatoon this winter. One of the homework assignments was to send a soil sample away to Earthfort for biology tests. To boost better balance of the microbes it was suggested to look at including those three products in my management. You only learn by doing, so away we go!

There were no hives for 30 miles, but still piles of bees around the Phacelia stand.
photo: Kevin Elmy


Hydrolyzed fish?

Kevin Elmy’s mention of adding hydrolyzed fish to his soil left me stumped. So I phoned him to ask.

“It’s fish oil,” he said. “An organic soil amendment.”

Remember when you learned that Native Americans had planted fish along with the corn and beans, to grow a better crop? This is just like that, Kevin told me. “The oil stimulates biology in the soil.”

Kevin says there are quite a few companies processing and selling hydrolyzed fish. He prefers to buy oil from deep sea fish, rather than shallow fish. “Fewer pollutants.”

Kevin hasn’t applied hydrolyzed fish yet, but he is planning to spray it on in liquid form in 2018, along with some other products. Hopefully, he’ll let us know how it works out.

“How does it smell?” I asked. “It’s a little fishy.”

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