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Making the seeding decisions

Toban and his father are deciding what they’re going to put in the ground this spring — Toban’s first year back home on the farm


Seeding. The word alone fills me with nervous excitement. Nervous, because it’s what seeing your work in print is to the farming world. The big show. No turning back. What’s done is done.

This is what it’s all about, seeding and harvest. Excitement, because it’s the beginning of a new season, and it’s a tangible consequence of the seed-choosing process. You made a decision, ordered the seed and will soon be planting that seed, of a certain variety, at a certain depth, in a very uncertain market, exposing it to uncertain weather conditions.

Soybeans for success

“What to plant” is not decided in a vacuum. This year’s crop was certainly not decided by me, an ag newbie. But my father did include me in the decision-making process, at least a little. I’m 32 and have been back at the farm for only six months; he’s used to planning without me.

Wheat is for crop rotation, soybeans, sunflowers and edibles are for profit and canola is for purposes I don’t yet know. This is what I knew of the seed-deciding process before spending quality time on the farm, so for about three decades. Now, what I know is more or less the same, only in varying shades of grey.

Seed companies are pouring lots of research and development dollars into soybeans, a crop that as far as I can tell is going nowhere but up, in popularity, in price and in acres seeded. The plant is kind to the land it’s planted in, allowing it to be seeded multiple years in a row with minimal to no risk. Suddenly the need to have default, less lucrative crop rotation options is not as important. And, this is to say nothing of the plant’s ability to withstand dry or unusually wet conditions. We have been growing soybeans for many years, and will continue to for the foreseeable future.

I went to a bean seminar in the fall of last year, in hopes of learning a few things and for free pulled-pork sandwiches (my Achilles heel). I learned that the world wants soybeans, bean companies want you to buy their beans, and the market will welcome your beans with open arms. Perfect.

I may be green, but I’ve already worked out that soys are a good seeding decision, but, when I drive west across the Prairies through huge swaths of Saskatchewan and Alberta, I don’t see much evidence of this soybean dominance. This I don’t have an answer for, at least not a convincing one. Most farmers grow crops, you still with me, but that doesn’t mean every crop available to a grower stands out as an option to him or her. A builder specializing in stairs won’t switch to constructing elevators overnight, and not without extensive research.

Each crop has its own learning curve, a fact I am coming to appreciate more and more. There are, I’m sure, crops we could be growing on our farm that are as resilient and profitable as soys, but their influence has not yet reached these parts. Farmers plant what they’re familiar with, as a general rule, which is not so much a criticism as a comment on how everyone makes decisions.

Cutting the canola

Canola is on the chopping block for us this year, for its weakness to weather extremes and volatile market presence. This, however, is an unfamiliar practice, as cutting canola from the roster means we would only be planting two crops. And, I’ve gleaned from diligent eavesdropping that crop diversity is an important consideration.

What would happen if the market was saturated with soybeans and wheat prices plummeted? In part, this hypothetical illustrates the gravity of the decision, but in a more substantial way, it illustrates why diversity is important. Allowing the market to turn its head on your one product is too big a risk for most farms, unless you have quota on your side or your farm is a major supplier to specific, large-scale clients. If you can, however, offer a few options the chances of kind market reception increases. This is why the decision is not certain on our end.

I may not be entirely sure of all the farm’s decisions but I am certain wheat will make the team. Its recent high selling price has made it a favourable option, and wheat is something this farm is used to growing, a true stalwart crop of the Prairie farm.

Whatever crops are going into our farm’s land this year, I am looking forward to being around for it. 2013 will be my first entire season as a mentoring farmer, from seeding to harvest. I am scouring the classifieds in my area looking for land to rent, so that I too can make these decisions under the duress of uncertainty and excitement of possibility. †

About the author

Columnist

Toban Dyck is a freelance writer and a new farmer on an old farm. Follow him on Twitter @tobandyck or email [email protected]

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