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Editor’s column

A very new crop year

This issue of Grainews went to press just days after Bill C-18, the bill removing the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly powers, received royal assent and became law. As I write, the dust is still settling on the court case brought by the now-former eight CWB directors trying to stop the bill. The initial ruling appears to have gone against them; any ruling would be applicable only in Manitoba anyway (see the Wheat and Chaff item on the topic on page 3). To sum up, the CWB as farmers have known it is dead and the CWB 2.0 remains.

As I’ve watched this all unfold, the question I always had for the CWB was “How are you preparing to conduct business if and when this all goes through?” There never seemed to be an answer for that, so I was rather relieved to finally hear CWB president and CEO Ian White speak up after the bill received royal assent and outline the CWB’s plan for surviving in an open market. Because, yes, they do in fact have a plan.

According to the website, White says, “The passage of Bill C-18 into law heralds significant change for the CWB and for Prairie farmers. The CWB has been preparing for this change for many months, developing both pool and cash programs for farmers for the upcoming crop year. Details about new 2012-13 programs will be announced soon.”

Grain companies have already started offering contracts for after the August 1 “new year.” Not all have, as of writing, but it’s only a matter of time, as the Manitoba-based court case to stop the bill isn’t likely to go in the monopoly-supporters’ favour.

There are those that have been in this business far longer than I’ve even been alive, and even to me witnessing this bill pass has been an almost surreal experience. This is a very new year, indeed.

My question now is, how will this really change how farmers do business? The decades of arguments for and against the monopoly will finally be tested. Realistically, it’ll be more than a few years before one side can gloat about being right about the rise or fall of prices, if they so wish, but for the most part it’ll be the pundits that still bicker over this. Farmers will just be busy doing what they’ve always done — running the farm the best way they know how.

A different kind of tillage

This first issue of the year is dedicated to tillage and equipment. Tillage is a topic I struggle with, as I’m a firm believer in the benefits of no-till, but I grew up in Manitoba’s Red River Valley, a place where some tillage is just plain necessary. Instead of taking the most typical look at tillage offerings (there’s some of that in the machinery section if that’s your thing), I asked Kevin Elmy, a seed grower and farmer at Saltcoats, Sask., to share his experience with using forage radish as both a source of feed for cattle and an all-natural way to break up soil compaction, increase soil water infiltration and out-compete weeds. Tillage radish, as it’s called, is really quite an amazing plant, and one that you can grow in conjunction with other crops, so it’s not like you lose a year of income as is the case with some other cover crops.

Angela Lovell has also outlined several issues with hardpan (see page 8), an often misdiagnosed soil condition for much of the Prairies. The rub with hardpan is that it’s quite possible to contend with both mechanically-induced compaction issues and a chemical “hardpan” condition in solonetzic soils. Lovell’s feature walks you through how to tell the difference and what to do about it. Lee Hart has also detailed one farmer’s experience with deep tillage (page 20) and Scott runs down some new tillage options on page 22.

For metal heads, as machinery editor Scott Garvey likes to be called, Germany’s Agritechnica is like Christmas, but even more rare as it only comes once every two years. Scott spent nearly a week at the show (he would have been there all week if not for some unfortunate airline mixups) earlier this winter getting details about all that is new, shiny and exciting for farm equipment. Coverage starts on page 19, including a look at a tractor that will forever have its very own Grainews mark.

Planning for the year ahead

How much planning do you do for your farm — for finances, crop rotations, marketing or otherwise? How far ahead do you look? For many, planning anything more than a few months at a time can seem overwhelming or maybe even useless when you try and account for all the variables that come into play. Our favourite Management Minute types, Andrew DeRuyck and Mark Sloane, outline two types of planners in this issue’s column on page 14. It’s a great example of why it’s important to plan but to also be realistic — you’d never actually DO anything if you tried to account for every eventuality.

At the same time, doing a little planning, whether before buying a bit more land or organizing storage for the year, can not only make you more money (especially with marketing), but it could also help to set up the farm for a smooth succession or a major expansion long before it’s really in the works.

As editor, I tend to use agronomy conferences as a leaping off point for much of the story planning I do for the year. Interestingly, as I toured around the many conferences earlier this winter, even the experts seemed somewhat conflicted on what to discuss — should we tackle dealing with excess moisture, like most of the provinces had prior to July, or should we talk about herbicide carryover due to the lack of rain we had after the end of June? Take weed control, for example. I wonder if specialists have ever had to talk about curled dock and drought-loving weeds in the same year? It certainly makes weed control and crop rotation planning just a little more challenging.

This issue marks my last as editor for at least a little while, as it’s about time to welcome my second baby. That means it’s time to leave this magazine in the capable hands of Leeann Minogue, based at Griffin, Sask. For planning purposes, it’d be great if you could zip her an email and let her know what types of agronomy stories you want tackled in the coming months. Her email address is [email protected]

Here’s to a fantastic 2012!

Lyndsey

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