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Crop yield and quality all over the map

Wrecks in some places, but surprisingly good in others, say farmers talking about the 2014 harvest

So how was the harvest of 2014? Depending where you on the Prairies it may have set a record for being one of the worst, or slowest in farming memory, while on the other hand, for some it was surprisingly one of the earliest.

And quality wise, that ranges across the board too, according to producers contacted for the December Farmer Panel. Fursarium head blight (FHB) stood out as a major quality downgrade for some cereals in the eastern Prairies, while on the western side it was other weather-related issues that simply slowed harvest, or affected crop quality.

As of early November, all farmers had harvest done and crop in the bin, but now it was a matter of waiting for word from crop insurance, or getting crop marketed over the coming weeks.

Brad Crammond, Sidney, Man.

Winter wheat was a major disappointment for southern Manitoba farmer Brad Crammond, again this year.

The fall-seeded cereal hasn’t done well for Crammond the past three years, but with wet growing conditions during the summer on his farm near Sidney, east of Brandon, he doesn’t know what kind of market, if any, he will find for a batch of AC Flourish — a red winter wheat that was badly infected by fusarium head blight.

“We actually had pretty decent conditions for the winter wheat harvest, but the quality was terrible,” says Crammond. “The yield was poor and the quality is poor— it is pretty well unmarketable. We’re just waiting word now from crop insurance to see what our options are.”

Crammond says his winter wheat has about six per cent FHB infection, which isn’t as bad as some in the region that had up to 30 per cent FHB disease, but still makes it an unsalable crop.

Although the quality was poor, he says harvesting winter wheat starting in mid August was “quick and painless, but then combining the rest of the crop was a fight after that,” he says. “It took us two months to the day to get everything done. We started August 13 and finished October 13. We had wet conditions to contend with, but we didn’t have the mud that some people had so we were lucky in that regard.”

Aside from being a slow harvest, Crammond says the yield and quality of the rest of his crops — spring wheat, canola and flax — actually was decent. “The yields and quality were actually pretty good,” he says. “Perhaps not as good as last year, but considering the season they were good overall.”

Doyle Wiebe, Langham, Sask.

All things considered, harvest went quite well on Doyle Wiebe’s farm at Langham, Sask., just northeast of Saskatoon.

He had some extra labour and a second combine materialized just at harvest. He was a bit late getting the crop seeded, but then with a decent growing season everything matured quite well. So with the crop ready and extra harvest capacity it took about a month from late August until late September to get his hard red spring wheat, feed barley, canola, and first crop of fababeans in the bin.

“There were some ups and downs as far as quality was concerned, but overall not too bad,” says Wiebe.

“I was a bit nervous about the wheat because of visual evidence in the region, I thought fusarium might really affect the crop. But we have sent samples away for testing and the results are coming back at less than one per cent, so I am happy about that. I think quite a bit of the durum was hit much worse.” He’s not sure if the variety made a difference, but it appears AC Shaw — a midge tolerant hard red spring wheat — handled the disease quite well.

Wiebe says he may have harvested canola a bit earlier than he should have. He thought it looked good, but in the bin it had more green seed than he likes. “But the crop is dry and safe in the bin, and with a bit of blending I am sure it will market quite well.”

The feed barley came off with good quality and a “nice heavy” bushel weight, he says. And he was impressed with his first field of fababeans.

“We may have had some seeding issues, but we can correct those next year,” says Wiebe. “Overall I was impressed with the crop. We’ve haven’t grown a pulse crop in 25 years. But fababeans grew well and were good to combine. Overall they were a nice crop to work with and it appears marketing opportunities are developing. We plan to grow them again next year.”

Marcel van Staveren, Griffin, Sask.

It was another difficult growing season for southeast Saskatchewan farmer Marcel van Staveren and harvest was no walk in the park either.

Rainfall over his Griffin-area farm ranged from 20 to 24 inches from April to November. Some crop was seeded on time, some of it was late, some not at all, and then with wet conditions at harvest, the combines weren’t stuck every day but often enough.

“About 15 per cent of our acres were either not seeded or drowned out after seeding,” says van Staveren. “Considering the year we are fortunate that our durum crop is marketable. A lot of it is No. 4, but even that is worth about $10 per bushel, and then the rest is of better quality, so we were fortunate.” He estimates the durum averaged about 50 bushels per acre and will help make up for poor results with canola and soybeans.

Both a good portion of canola and soybeans were seeded late due to wet conditions and both crops were affected by an early frost September 12. He had about 3,000 acres of canola seeded between June 8 and 14.

“With that frost I was concerned about green seed so I decided to let the crop stand and dry down and then we could straight combine for the first time,” says van Staveren. “The one variety which was a Pioneer Hi-Bred Roundup Ready variety combined with some seed lost but not too bad, but the other, CPS VT530, was horrible for shattering and we lost a lot on the ground. “

As it turned out, van Staveren said, green seed wasn’t an issue, but then wonders if all the green seed might have been in the top pods and most of that ended up on the ground.

The 3,000 acres of soybeans was a mixed bag of results too. The earlier seeded soybeans yielded about 30 to 35 bushels per acre — some of his best, while the later seeded soybeans came in at only 17 bushels per acre. “I am always amazed at how well these things can handle water,” says van Staveren. “They may be only eight inches tall, but they stand there and produce seed, but that lower yield sure pulls your average down.”

Looking back at the season, van Staveren says it appears they stopped making money on any crop seeded after June 6, and at best broke even on those late seeded acres. At least there was something growing to help use the moisture, he says.

With excessive moisture an ongoing concern for the farm he did something this year he hasn’t done in 20 years — used a vertical tillage tool and applied anhydrous ammonia in a bid to work down stubble and blacken the soil with hopes of drying out fields before the 2015 seeding season.

Jason Craig, Camrose, Alta.

Trying to straight combine an ankle-high canola crop in October capped off a relatively stressful harvest season for Jason Craig at Camrose, Alta., south of Edmonton.

Peas harvested in late August actually produced a decent yield with good quality, but a heavy snowfall in early September made it a challenge to get the rest of the crops harvested over the next two months.

“There was some rain at seeding so some of the crops were a bit late, and then that snow in September sort of finished things off,” says Craig. “We had to wait for fields and crops to dry and we only had about 20 per cent of combining done at the end of September. We did most of our combining in October.”

Despite the fact that crops were flattened which made combining difficult, he says the quality of the crops actually wasn’t too bad. His barley made malting quality although it was a bit tough. The hard red spring wheat suffered on the quality end with most coming in at feed grade and only some as a No. 3.

The canola hugged the ground, but graded No. 1 with very little green seed and only slight shattering loss. And the fababeans came through with a No. 2 grade and stood despite the snow.

“The fababeans were actually the last crop we combined,” says Craig. “We sprayed the crop with Reglone about three days before that frost and snow so they started to dry. They stood quiet well despite the snow. They didn’t fall over, but they did get shorter. We combined some in September and they were 23 per cent moisture, so we left the field until last. They were standing and dry, but we still had to run the combine on the ground to get the lower pods.”

Kevin Serfas, Serfas Farms, Turin, Alta.

In a feast and famine year, moisture wise, Kevin Serfas says their southern Alberta farm actually had one of the fastest harvest seasons in recent memory.

Although it was quite wet in early June with about 12 inches of rain, it stopped and stayed dry for most of the year through early fall.

“We started combining barley in early August and we had everything done by the Tuesday after Thanksgiving,” says Serfas, who farms with his brother Mark and their father Herb Serfas, north and west of Lethbridge. “I can only remember us being done that early twice in the past 15 years.”

Silage corn cut for the farm feedlot presented the biggest challenge, says Serfas. The spring rain after seeding reduced corn yields by about 15 per cent, and again it was wet when it came time to chop the corn.

Otherwise, over their farmland which covers a distance of about 150 kilometres north to south, Serfas says the feed barley and canola came off with decent yields and good quality.

“We had a few delays at harvest but nothing major and actually our crops faired quite well,” he says. “It wasn’t a cake walk, but we’re not complaining.”

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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