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Les Henry: Diary of my 2019 wheat crop

This growing season was challenging, but the end result was better than expected

The 2019 crop year will go on record as one of the more challenging in a long time. In the past decade we have had a very good run of good crops — often with harvest weather that allowed long stretches where dry grain could be binned.

At the same time, we have enjoyed crop prices that allowed us to easily pencil in good profits and markets that took much of our products in a timely fashion. To an old crock like me it seemed almost too good to be true. “Beware the other side of the average,” was my advice. This year has clearly taken us to just that.

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What follows is a blow by blow of my little operation for 2019. Even a little skin in the game keeps a person in touch with reality.

Last fall

August 20, 2018: Harvested a 25 bu./ac. canola crop. The May to July rain was only 3.7″ but a soil full of water provided most of the bushels. Some sloughs were too wet to seed so those acres were zero yield.

August 29, 2018: Post-harvest weed control with one litre/acre glyphosate plus 2,4-D ester. Sow thistle seemed to like the previous wet years and was the main weed problem, along with volunteer canola. The lack of rain meant that any bit of soil moisture must not be lost to weeds.

November 1, 2018: August to October rain was only 2.4″ and most of that in small amounts that did not add to subsoil reserves. When we made the November 1, 2018 soil moisture map my area was in red — no subsoil moisture below six inches.

November 1, 2018, to February 28, 2019: We had about two feet of snow which was melted by late March. In early April I pumped only two small sloughs on to the adjacent upland. Snow melt added little to soil moisture.

Spring 2019

May 16, 2019: Brandon wheat was seeded at 1.5 bu./acre with 44 pounds/acre of nitrogen and 18 pounds/acre P2O5 banded beside and below the seed with a Seed Hawk drill. Both seeding and fertilizer rates were substantially reduced because of the lack of subsoil moisture. Much above-average rain would be needed to get a normal crop and timing would be important.

No pre-seeding burndown was used because nothing was growing.

The May rain was only 0.5″ in two small dabs that were all returned to the atmosphere with no crop benefit.

June 1 to June 19, 2019: Only 0.55″ of rain, again in small amounts of no value. Much of the crop germinated and emerged OK but the growth rate was very slow because of drought. Some areas germinated but did not come up and knolls were very poor.

No in-crop herbicide was applied because there were no weeds. It was not that weed seeds were absent but there was no moisture to germinate them.

On June 20 there was 1.6″ of rain, and 1.7″ on June 22. The drought was finally broken with enough rain to make a difference.

June 26, 2019. The knolls were still very poor. Crop and weed growth was just starting.
photo: Les Henry

Summer

June 29, 2019: In-crop MCPA and Horizon herbicide applied. The late June rains had finally given the crop a boost and germinated the weeds. Weeds were mainly volunteer canola with patches of green foxtail and wild oats and a few other broad leaf weeds. The spray timing was a little late for crop stage but a little early for weeds — more were expected to come up. Timing was a challenge.

Total rain in June, July and August was 8.7″. A late August rain of 0.9″ would not have benefitted most of the crop that was no longer using water.

Harvest

September 15, 2019: Pre-harvest application of 0.9 litre/acre glyphosate plus 87 per cent label rate of Heat LQ. A large part of the crop was ready for straight cutting as soon as it dried from recent rain but the hilltops still had some green.

September 29, 30, 2019: Snow and rain. When it melted there was 1″ in the gauges and the wheat was flat on the ground. Ouch!

October 12, 13, 2019: Crop straight combined with two JD S680 combines with MacDon Headers. It’s truly amazing what those headers will do with a crop that is so flat. Very little was missed, and the final bin measure/cart weight was a surprising 45 bu./ac. The kicker was the 18 per cent moisture.

The crop on hilltops and sloughs was exactly opposite to normal years. Crop in sloughs was clean and well matured but crop on high ground had delayed maturity. Some sloughs that had not seen crop for years (too wet) gave the yield monitors a thrill with numbers 75 or better.

October 17, 18, 2019: Took the wheat to the elevator. Net sold yield was 41 bu./ac. Drying costs were high, but I was glad the elevator could take the damp grain and deal with it.

The big quality factor this year was falling number, which is, oddly, not even part of our official grading system. Sprouting was the concern, and Brandon wheat is rated “Poor” for sprouting resistance. My falling Number was 350 so it was in demand. The assigned grade was No. 2 CWRS. Protein was only 12.1 per cent which was no surprise, with the low nitrogen rate used.

My good neighbour Iver Johnson neatly cutting my crop. It was badly mangled by the snow.
photo: Les Henry

The end result

This year was challenging for sure but the end result for me was better than expected at times along the way. This year was a great reminder of my Rule 1 of farming, “Mother Nature is in charge.” I cannot imagine the situation in Manitoba with the winter blizzard in mid-October.

Have a Merry Christmas and here’s to a better next year as we start a new decade.

About the author

Columnist

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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