Pearce: Weather not the only story in Ont. fields

The snow covering this field of corn stubble on Tuesday (April 15) is now mostly gone. (Ralph Pearce photo)

The planting season always seems that much closer when the first meeting of extension staff with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and local retailers and advisers is held. It provides a first glimpse of the region’s wheat crop as it comes out of dormancy, and an assessment of local field activity, including planting intentions for corn and soybeans.

For 2014’s inaugural meeting for the Huron-Perth, north Middlesex and Oxford regions, however, winter’s delayed departure was also front-of-mind. A last vestige of the season dropped temperatures below freezing and snowfall amounts of between five and seven centimetres across much of southern Ontario. It’s not to say farmers in other parts of the country aren’t equally frustrated by winter’s lingering departure — it’s that there’s already been a fair amount of activity in the region, in spite of this recent cold snap. Yet judging by the conversations during the meeting, there was little doubt the snow would be short-lived and retailers, advisers and farmers could get back to the considerable work waiting in the fields.

In the short-term picture of the growing season, the group was asked about the status of the wheat crop across the region. The general consensus was that for those fields seeded on or before Thanksgiving, quality and vigour in most of the wheat was good; anything seeded after was likely to have a tougher time rebounding from the extreme conditions this past winter. A surprising number of acres of red clover had also been planted, almost all of it going on this past weekend. One dealer from St. Marys estimated as much as half to 60 per cent of the clover had been planted to those acres that were planned. Further north, those acreages were down.

In terms of an official assessment, David Connery of Agricorp noted that up to Monday (April 14)_, there had been 145 damage reports for wheat fields, with 80 of those concentrated in the Essex-Kent-Lambton corner of southwestern Ontario. Connery noted there’s a fairly even spread between calls on late-seeded wheat and those seeded early. He added there are still some corn fields standing around the region, mostly to the north through Grey and Bruce counties. Those fields, he reminded everyone, can still yield as high as 80 per cent of expectations. In all, there are about 100 farmers with standing corn, with acreage that amounts to less than two per cent of the provincial totals, and adjusters are still trying to get those claims assessed. Connery also reminded everyone May 1 is the deadline for any changes to be made to crop insurance.

Another topic of discussion was concern about tillage that either was not done (according to conventional fall plans) or was done and shouldn’t have been. At this point and under current conditions, it was suggested by OMAF staff that single passes using RTS (residue tillage systems) or vertical tillage will do very little to help fill any ruts left behind in the rush of harvest last year. Even running two or three times through the field could do more harm than good. Using an Amazone or other European-style tillage unit might work with a single pass, but only if the farmer has a tractor with sufficient horsepower.

One agronomist cited an example from 2010 that he wants to see avoided this year: a grower he knew RTS’ed his ground to help break up the soil, and instead helped create a solid plow pan two inches deep.

— Ralph Pearce is a field editor for Country Guide at St. Marys, Ont.


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