Tribulations and field trials

Politics as much a concern as the weather and agronomics

I’m hoping by the time this column appears in print that all road and railway blockades have been removed and truck and rail commerce has returned to normal across the country.

If it hasn’t by this March 10 publishing date, we might very well be in a state of war.

I was writing this column just at a crucial point of what appears to be a national conflict. The prime minister had just declared the blockades created by several Indigenous groups across the country — that were primarily interrupting train movement — must be removed, but two days later after he put his foot down nothing had happened. Okay, so now what do we do?

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Radio talk show hosts and news columnists were all asking the same question, “Who’s running the country?”

Manitoba farmer Bob Lapischak, who produces oats, canola, wheat and forages on his mixed farming operation near Neepawa, says dealing with the weather is one thing, but markets and political uncertainty can be equally concerning.

Lapischak, who is also a director of the Prairie Oat Growers Association (POGA), says he isn’t planning any major changes to his crop rotation and seeding intentions for 2020. “But a big concern is if markets go south for some reason, then we will have to make some changes in our cropping plans,” he says.

He’s like most producers across the country feeling the uncertainty, particularly with the international canola market. China hasn’t backed off on its refusal to accept Canadian canola exports for the second crop year in a row, so what impact will that have on canola prices over the coming months? It’s not a cheap crop to grow, and if it does need to be held and stored until it is sold, proper storage is critical, too, to avoid spoilage. One more stress, one more thing to think about.

And then, of course, domestically, if spontaneous illegal protests can shut down rail transportation across the country, that can also affect markets and market access not just for crops, but for all sectors of the ag industry.

Noting that POGA always aims to maintain a good working relationship with the federal government, Lapischak’s hopeful the feds will listen to concerns. He says most federal initiatives lean toward the export of Canadian grown oats. POGA would like to see more effort put into encouraging value-added processing of oats in Canada to develop more of a domestic market. “We hope the federal government doesn’t forget about us out here,” he says.

Do your own on-farm trials

And changing gears entirely, I also wanted to include a reminder in this column for farmers not to just wonder about what might make a difference in some aspect of crop production. Actually find out, by doing your own on-farm trial.

This reminder was encouraged by a long-time agronomy specialist Ieuan Evans in Alberta. He’s a plant pathologist, which also leads him to have a keen interest in proper crop nutrients. And if you have ever heard Evans speak or read some of his articles, chances are he has mentioned the importance of micronutrients including copper in producing a healthy, high-yielding crop stand.

Evans often makes the point that a “problem” with a crop is often misdiagnosed. In cereals, ergot and crop lodging, for example, are often blamed on weather or too much fertility, respectively, while the real culprit might be a micronutrient deficiency.

Evans’ recommendation? “Take 10 acres and do your own on-farm trial,” he says. Apply copper, boron or generally adjust the fertility program on that 10 acres to see if it does make a difference.

How involved does the on-farm trial need to be? General advice is to keep it simple. Farmers can check with an applied research association agronomist, or agronomist with one of the commodity organizations, or just look online for ideas on planning on-farm trials, such as https://www.grainews.ca/features/8-tips-to-running-yourown-trials.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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