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At Crow Lake Farm, we’re still finalizing our seeding plans. After the non-stop rain last spring, we’re a bit gun shy, afraid to make too many plans in case excess moisture keeps us out of the fields yet again.

Last year, we had all kinds of seeding plans. But when the spring rain just didn’t stop, we had to move on to Plan B (which involved seeding four acres on the top of a hill, getting the tractor stuck, then retreating to the house to hope for an unseeded acreage payment).

Most of our seed and chemical suppliers were flexible and sympathetic. It’s usually easier to return something you don’t need than scramble around to find something you want at the last minute when you’re already busy.

This winter has been dry, and the warm weather in January and early February has probably given the fields a chance to dry up even more, so we’re hoping we can seed a few more acres this year than last year.

Planning doesn’t always work its way to the top of the list. Some of our seed customers start booking their seed in the fall and pick it up early. But other farmers call as late as early May, then rush their seed straight out to the field.

There are good reasons for waiting to plan. Jobs. Winter travel. Or, like us, watching the weather. But, like it or not, planning early is something that just makes sense.

Programs and offers

If our seeding plans were finalized, it would be easier to take advantage of early-buying discounts on seed, and get in on chemical rebate programs that offer early-bird rewards. But even with our tentative (hopeful) plans, Gerald Pilger’s article in this issue will be helpful.

Gerald has produced a roundup of all of the major chemical company’s rebate and programming offers (find it on page 10). You’ve likely seen most of these — if your farm mailbox is like ours, it’s overflowing with glossy ads in all shapes and sizes this time of year. But it’s always convenient to see everything in one place, in a low-pressure situation.

Pulse varieties

Since pulses are a big part of Prairie farmers’ pre-seeding plans, the cover of this issue of Grainews features an article by Patty Milligan about new pulse varieties.

A lot of the information in Patty’s article came from the Saskatchewan Pulse Growers. SPG funds pulse breeding in Saskatchewan and, in return, has distribution rights to all pulse varieties developed by the Crop Development Centre. They release new varieties through the Variety Release Program.

The Crop Development Centre tries to breed new varieties with high yield and high quality that will excel in the Canadian Prairies. Dr. Bert Vandenberg, a lentil breeder at the Crop Development Centre and a member of the SPG board of directors, recently spoke at the SPG’s Pulse Days information meetings for pulse growers around Saskatchewan.

I heard him at the Weyburn meeting.

When it comes to lentil breeding, Vandenberg said, the trends are herbicide tolerance, disease resistance, and new technology. And they go to great lengths to do this. Vandenberg told the audience in Weyburn that they’re “very aggressive about introducing new germplasm from all over the world.”

During the coffee break, he told me that he’d just returned from a trip to a breeding facility in Bangladesh, and showed me some photos of the lentil test plots.

Prairie pulses are truly an international endeavour. Breeders not only need to know what traits will grow well here, they also need a good handle on what our customers around the world want to buy. For example, Vandenberg told the Weyburn audience that in a niche market in China, buyers will pay up to 50 per cent more for a smaller-size lentil that cooks faster. Because peas are a snack food in many Asian markets, buyers are finicky about the type and look of the peas they buy. Food trends change, agronomics improve, and Prairie farmers keep planting new varieties to keep up with the markets.

Farm safety

While pre-seeding planning is inevitable, planning for farm safety is generally something we have to make an effort to remind ourselves to do.

Planning and practising farm safety is nowhere near the most glamorous part of farming. In fact, it can be pretty dull. But there’s really no alternative. It’s hard to run the combine if you’re in the hospital — or worse.

Sure, it takes time to get all of your fire extinguishers checked, but speeding to the yard for a bucket of water once you’ve got a field fire isn’t more efficient, is it?

March 11 to 17 is Canadian Agricultural Safety week. The Canadian Agricultural Safety Association’s motto for the week is “Plan. Farm. Safety.” We’ve included a special safety section on pages 12 to 15. (And don’t forget about the regular safety feature from the Canadian Agricultural Safety Association that appears in every issue on page 4.)

When I asked what sort of safety articles she thought would make interesting features, freelance writer Shanyn Silinski came up with some useful ideas, including some suggestions I hadn’t thought of. One of her articles, “72 hours without services” is a great reminder for farm families to be prepared to survive for three days without services like power, gas and phones.

We forget how reliant we are on these services. When my cellphone was dead for one day last month, I could barely do my job. (Heck, I could barely function.) And, because many farmers live in thinly populated, remote areas that aren’t always a top priority in a general emergency, being prepared is even more important for us.

Before I moved to the farm, one spring about 11 years ago ice collected on the power lines. When the lines finally collapsed under the weight, the power was out at my husband’s farm for three days. After some experimenting with the generator, Brad learned that he could either plug in the satellite dish or the microwave (but not both at the same time). Needless to say, things were getting a bit dull for him by Day 3. But at least he had the generator, and plenty of frozen food in the freezer.

It’s not hard to imagine this happening again. In fact, the power was out for a few hours during the Griffin Ladies Bonspiel this February. But it was natural ice anyway, so once the windows were opened, we could see enough to keep on curling with the lights out. And the power came on well before the start of the potluck dinner.

I’m quite sure that Shanyn Silinski knows what to do if (when?) the power is off at her farm. And after you read her article and take note of her checklist, you will too.

Shanyn has also written an article about keeping children safe on the farm. She describes the “Eyes on Safety” approach that she and her husband use on their Manitoba farm. Before anyone starts doing any farm work (like starting the auger), they make a point of looking around to make sure they can actually see everyone who might be in the area. Sometimes, they might have to take a walk to find someone, or send a text message to make sure everyone is in a safe place before they get going.

This year, we’ll make a more conscientious effort to do this on our farm. With a busy five-year-old and seed customers driving in and out of the yard, we always try to think of safety. But it never hurts to make more of an effort.

Leeann

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