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2010 Weather Affecting 2011 Decisions

Last year’s weather is still one of the big factors as prairie farmers make decisions about 2011 cropping plans.

With many areas of Western Canada heading into winter with plenty of — and in some cases too much — moisture, farmers contacted for this Farmer Panel are switching acres to crops that appear to have higher moisture tolerance. Market forces are also driving changes in cropping intentions.

For this seed and seeding farmer panel, famers were asked if they planned any changes for 2011. Is there something new they’d like to try this coming year, or anything they did in 2010 they don’t plan to do again? Here is what this Farmer Panel had to say:

CHARLES SCHMIDT CHINOOK, ALTA.

After 20-years of including brown mustard in rotation, southeast Alberta farmer Charles Schmidt is dropping that oilseed and switching to about 1,200 acres of canola in 2011. It’s not because a couple of wetter growing seasons have perhaps improved the odds of getting a decent canola yield, says Schmidt, who along with his family farms about 10,000 acres in a traditionally very dry area near Chinook, Alta.

“I think we can thank Green Peace for saving the European Union from the hazards of genetically modified crops,” says Schmidt, with tongue in cheek. “Their efforts have effectively killed that market.”

Schmidt says the EU, bowing to pressure to keep GMO crops out of Europe, set extremely low tolerance levels (.01 per cent) for the amount of “GMO contamination” in any commodity shipments. And with some brown mustard shipments recently found with low levels of GMO canola, the market tanked.

So Schmidt, who follows a 50/50 summerfallow rotation, will for the first time grow both Liberty Link and Roundup Ready canola varieties this coming year. It will mean increasing his fertility program to support the yield potential of the crops, but he says fortunately canola market prices are fairly strong, too.

“I saw some people in this area last year with 50 bushel canola yields, and that’s compared to a 25 bushel average yield on brown mustard,” he says.

“We’ve had a couple years of exceptional moisture for our area, but that is not the norm, so because of the risk I can’t get too aggressive in my marketing,” he says. “But I hate to leave phenomenal prices on the table. It is pretty appealing when you can sell canola right off the combine at $11.40 a bushel. So we will at least plan to lock in a portion of the crop.”

Besides canola, Schmidt plans to keep wheat and barley acres at the same level and will include about 500 acres of lentils in the rotation as well.

He grew some lentils in 2010, but they didn’t perform well with the exceptional moisture. Assuming it may be a more normal year, moisture wise, he plans to grow Clearfield green lentils in 2011. He likes to keep a pulse crop in rotation, and lentils typically do well.

One other indirect benefit from the excessive moisture in parts of Western Canada last year, is a demand for his feed wheat in Manitoba. Schmidt says although poor weather at harvest downgraded his wheat to feed quality, it remained fusarium and ergot free. And feed grains free of disease and toxins are in high demand in Manitoba. So he’ll be trucking grain to Kindersley, Sask., where it will be taken by rail to Manitoba.

ERIC FRIDFINNSON ARBORG, MAN.

After three fairly wet growing seasons, Eric Fridfinnson is planning to increase soybean, flax and oat acres in 2011, while cutting back on canola, wheat and barley.

Fridfinnson, who crops about 5,000 acres with is brother Brian, says he has been impressed with how well soybeans have done in his part of east-central Manitoba, north of Winnipeg.

“We’ve had two or three pretty wet years and I think quite a few in this area are looking to grow more soybeans,” he says. “And being on the east side of the province we also have some freight advantage in moving the crop to market.”

As a long-time flax grower, he says that oilseed seemed to stand up well under wet conditions, and oats seemed to be better too than most wheat and barley. Because of the high-moisture growing conditions the disease pressure of fusarium head blight in wheat and barley has increased too.

For 2011, Fridfinnson plans to increase forage and grass seed production mostly because that part of their rotation has fallen behind due to difficulty in getting the seed crops planted. So they hope to get production back.

He’s also for the first time planning to produce about 160 acres of grain corn for the feed market. Again, with more wheat and barley crops in Manitoba affected by fusarium, there is a strong demand for feed grains, and especially corn for the hog industry.

Although the ground in his area was saturated heading into winter, and there is a chance seeding will be delayed, he hopes he’ll be able to get soybeans planted early. For 2011 he plans to grow a Roundup Ready variety in hopes of also tackling some weed problems which have developed over the past wet growing seasons.

Flax is also an earlier-seeded crop he hopes to get planted with the goal of producing high quality oilseed for either the human food, or premium bird seed market, both of which can bring a $1 per bushel price premium.

KRIS MAYERLE TISDALE, SASK.

Kris Mayerle’s first objective is to get all his land seeded this year, since nearly half sat in fallow in 2010. And when he does seed, he’ll be going much heavier to canola, and cutting back on pulse crops.

Mayerle, who along with family crops nearly 20,000 acres near Tisdale in northeast Saskatchewan, says he plans to reduce an average 3,000 acre pea and lentil crop to about half that in 2011. Neither pulse crop did well under high moisture conditions in 2010, and fields are still saturated heading into the 2011 seeding season. The former pulse acres will go into canola, and also he plans to seed all his summerfallow acres to canola as well.

“Last year we only got 60 per cent seeded and of that about 10 per cent was flooded out,” he says. “We combined about 10,000 acres but about half our land was in fallow due to the excessive moisture.”

Mayerle will be seeding all three herbicide tolerant canola types — Roundup Ready, Liberty Link and Clearfield — in 2011. With all fairly close in productivity, his main interest is to match the in-crop herbicide treatment for best control of different weed spectrums.

“We still plan to keep some pulses in rotation, but if it is still very wet when it comes to seeding we may make a last minute decision to switch those into canola and cereals,” he says.

Mayerle also plans to be more prepared for getting the crop seeded this spring. He plans to hire extra seeding capacity so it can be completed in a more timely manner, and if need be he’ll even float seed on wet fields. “Our plan is to get the seed on early and if we float it on and it doesn’t look like it is coming very well by May 20 we can always come back in with the air drill and seed those areas again,” he says.

CURT WALKER RUMSEY, ALTA.

Curt Walker, a farmer and crop consultant at Rumsey, just north of Drumheller, Alta. says he will be looking to conduct more field trials on seed priming products in 2011. He, along with clients, ran several trials with different products in 2010 that showed some promise for improving yield.

“But you just can’t form any conclusions after one year,” he says. “So we will be looking at doing more trials in 2011.”

Walker, who established Agviser Crop Management Ltd. four years ago, encourages all farmers to do their own field trials on any products to see if product claims are just so much hype, or really do make a difference.

For example, he didn’t see any significant difference in foliar applied micro-nutrient products in field trials in 2010, but that may have been due to cool and in many areas, extremely wet growing conditions.

However, with a seed primer, he did measure a three to four bushel per acre yield increase in wheat. One product in particular, ACA Plus, a seed primer marketed by UAP, can be used on a wide range of crops. Walker applied it to spring wheat. ACA Plus is a nutrient blend of zinc ammonia acetate that is applied to seed or in the seed row. It can be applied at four to five ounces per 100 pounds of seed as the seed is being loaded from the bin into the seed caddy, or at a rate of one liter per acre in the furrow or tank mixed with liquid or dry fertilizer.

With its best fit during early or late planting, or when seeding into cold, wet soils deficient in zinc, it claims to improve crop root development and get seedlings off to a more vigorous start.

“I don’t believe I could see a visual difference in the crop during the growing season, but when we harvested those strips with a combine equipped with a yield monitor it did register a three to four bushel yield improvement over untreated wheat. Again, after one year, it is too early to draw conclusions, but it is worth doing more trials this year,” he says. Walker estimates the cost of the product at $3 to $4 per acre in wheat.

With guidance systems, auto steer and yield monitors, he says producers on their own or working through their crop consultant can create test strips to evaluate various products and treatments.

“Particularly in dealing with micronutrients, a soil test in different production zones may tell you if soil is deficient in copper, zinc, boron or other micronutrient,” he says. “You can even do test strips just in those zones to see if there

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Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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