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Getting info and seeding early

It is the time of year to gather knowledge and make your plans for the coming season

January is the busiest month of the year for ag trade shows, conferences, updates and industry meetings. You could spend the entire month traveling across the Prairies attending sessions.

I attended the inaugural Cereals Innovation Symposium in Red Deer, Alta., hosted by the Alberta Wheat Commission, and heard some very interesting speakers.

Scientists talked about new genetic opportunities in plant breeding and disease resistance. Researchers discussed projects ranging from fractionation of barley straw to extract high purity starches to using varietal mixes in wheat to improve lodging.

The future of the grains industry is alive and well and ever changing! I believe we are going to see major ground breaking discoveries and improvements in the near future.

Ultra-early wheat

One research project that caught my attention was an ultra-early wheat seeding system. It may not be high tech, but it could help with time management and profitability.

This project is being overseen by Graham Collier, a PhD candidate at the University of Alberta. The five-year project is currently in year three/four, and Collier anticipates the published findings will be available in 2020.

These researchers want to find out if we can push seeding dates for wheat earlier. They aren’t seeding plots based on the calendar, but instead based on soil temperature. They seeded their first plots on the first day that the soil temperature reached 0 C. Then they seeded more plots when the soil temperatures hit 2 C, 4 C, 6 C, 8 C and 10 C, so they would have a wide range of data.

In 2016, this meant seeding as early as February 16 in Lethbridge and March 29 in Edmonton!

They used a number of cold-tolerant varieties, with AC Stettler as a check variety. So far, AC Stettler has performed just as well as the cold-tolerant varieties.

Here are some preliminary results:

  • Seeding by soil temperature usually meant getting in the field two weeks earlier than normal.
  • They haven’t seen a significant yield decrease.
  • For the most consistent results, the best temperatures to seed were between 2 C and 6 C.
  • There has been a trend toward a decline in yield the longer they waited to seed.
  • Despite as many as 37 nights of below 0 C temps and lows down to -10 C after seeding, the plant stands were as good or better at the early seeding dates.

They will do more trials and come up with a management and growing plans for interested producers.

The future

You are going to have a tougher and tougher time deciding which new technologies to implement on your farm, be it adopting new varieties, changing your agronomics or upgrading equipment.

The appeal of new technology is hard to resist for some, while others almost fear it.

Whatever you decide, consider the potential for real value for your farm. Can it provide an increased net return?

When I sit down with clients to build a marketing plan, which includes a brief review of farm financials, I start with this little tidbit of wisdom: agronomics can be determined very scientifically. But weather and markets are out of your control so your end results are not guaranteed.

You need to build some buffer and flexibility into your financial plan so you can react when the variables that are out of your control move against you. The place to do that is within your fixed costs, the area you can control.

When you’re considering spending money on new technology or equipment, honestly evaluate the expected net return. If it doesn’t pencil out to some real dollars, stop and reflect before going any further.

If there is a positive real dollar benefit, consider the implementation costs. Adding more fixed costs to your financial statement does not help build flexibility into your financial plan. This makes it harder to build a marketing plan that will provide you with a profitable year when uncontrollable variables don’t go your way.

The bottom line is to make a profit. How you get there is your decision.

About the author

Columnist

Brian Wittal has 30 years of grain industry experience and currently offers market planning and marketing advice to farmers through his company Pro Com Marketing Ltd.

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