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Another season begins

Just getting started and almost done, and a range in between — that’s how farmers described their seeding status in mid-May

Pretty well everyone was on their cell phones in the tractor cab when the evening call came in from Grainews asking about plans for the 2013 season. Some farmers said the season was late by a week or two, others said it just a bit later than last year and last year was a bit early, and others felt it was just about average.

A farmer in southern Alberta said it was getting to the point of being too dry in his area, while everyone else was dancing around some degree of moisture. With nice weather and wind in the days leading up to May 15, conditions were drying out fast and improving every day. Everyone was looking for another one, two or three weeks of good weather to get the job done.

And, again, all contacted said they were trying or evaluating something new this seeding season — new varieties, new crops, or new technology.

Dale Leftwich Esterhazy, Sask.

Dale Leftwich was planning to start seeding May 15. It had just been too wet and cold on his farm at Esterhazy in southeast Saskatchewan, not far from the Manitoba border, to get on the land any sooner.

Leftwich, who along with family members crops about 3,800 acres, figured he was about two weeks behind from where he would be most years.

“There has been snow, and it has been cold, and everything was wet,” he says. “The weeds weren’t even growing. If we can just get two or three weeks of good weather we will get the crop seeded.”

Two years ago because of excess moisture he only got half the crop seeded, and last year he got pretty well everything seeded, but that was followed by 26 inches of rain during May and June, which took its toll on plant survival and crop yield. With reasonable conditions at hand, he was hoping there are no weather extremes ahead this year.

Leftwich, a director of SaskCanola, has one field of winter wheat, which appears to be pulling through a wet spring. He was concerned earlier as there was standing water between the drill rows, but the water was gone and the crop appears to be making a good recovery.

This year he planned to seed mostly wheat and canola, although he is looking for more cropping options. He has grown oats, barley and peas in the past, but notes the weather in recent years has reduced his options. He is just on the fringe of what he considers viable corn and soybean country — he’d like to see earlier, lower heat-unit varieties.

He is planning to try about 100 acres of faba beans this year. He is growing this field under contract so marketing shouldn’t be an issue as long as they yield reasonably well. He likes having a pulse crop in rotation and faba beans may be the answer. Also with a few stones in his country it is nice to have a taller pulse crop that should be easier to harvest.

Dustin Williams Souris, Manitoba

Dustin Williams figured he was a week to 10 days behind in seeding compared to where he was last year at this time. By May 15, 2012 he had a good 50 per cent of the crop seeded and this year by mid-May he had only about 15 to 20 per cent in the ground.

“It was wet, but we’ve had a nice drying spring so conditions are good at the moment,” he says. “Once we get the crop in we probably could use some rain.”

Williams, who farms at Souris in southwest, Manitoba, was seeding cereals on May 15, but he was soon switching to seed an expanded soybean crop. Impressed with how 320 acres of soybeans had performed in 2012, he decided to seed about 800 acres this year.

With a lot of wind this spring the soil dried out faster than he expected. He was planning to treat more land this spring with a new vertical tillage tool called a smart-till. It’s a tool bar with a series of rotating spikes that can be adjusted to vary the degree of tillage.

“We did treat about 20 per cent of our land including some of the wetter areas with it last fall and I have been really impressed,” he said. “It fractures the soil profile through the top eight inches, so the moisture goes down. We have been able to seed through some of those wet areas without any problem.” He also used the Smart-Till on some pastureland being converted to cropland, and after a couple passes with the spikes “I’m really happy with the way it looks. I don’t think I will need to cultivate it before I seed.”

He was planning to smart-till more land ahead of the seeding equipment this year, but with general drying conditions it wasn’t necessary. He will, however, need to be out with the mower to knock down tall stubble before seeding.

Williams is also trying some new pre-seeding chemicals on soybean acres this year targeting Roundup Ready canola volunteers and glyphosate-resistant Kochia. “And we also like to try the newer in-crop herbicides as well, to see how well they work,” he says.

Kris Mayerle Tisdale, Sask.

It was still pretty wet in the Tisdale area of east-central Saskatchewan, but Kris Mayerle figured they were only three or four days late in their seeding this year.

Mayerle who operates KRM Farms along with family members, said one seeding unit was seeding oats, another wheat and a third unit was seeding canola.

“Right now you have to pick and choose your fields because some areas are still pretty wet,” he says. “But it is amazing how quickly it is drying up with this wind. Last Saturday there was one field we couldn’t work in, but by Monday we could travel with no problem.”

Mayerle is sticking pretty close to a usual rotation that includes wheat, canola, oats, and barley. He did grow some hemp last year and will have another field in 2013. And he is expanding his faba acres this year. He had a 10-acre trial field in 2012 and plans to seed about 320 acres in 2013.

“It grew well last year and seemed to handle the moisture better than some of the soybean crops in this area,” he says. “Our pea acres are way down and we will put more into the faba beans.”

Robert Semeniuk Smoky Lake, Alta.

Robert Semeniuk jokes they are going in circles in more ways than one on his Smoky Lake area farm as he pushes ahead with the 2013 seeding season.

It was cool and wet in their area, northeast of Edmonton earlier this year, but he figures they aren’t much delayed compared to most years.

“Typically we are seeding by May 6 so we may be a couple days off, but we aren’t really late for this neck of the woods,” says Semeniuk who along with his family operates RAS Farms. “We’re not late, but the season is compressed. Conditions are good but we need to get it done.”

The pulse crop was in and he was seeding wheat when contacted for comments for the Farmer Panel. One new wheat variety he is trying this year was a general purpose wheat intended for ethanol use.

And It had been an interesting day as Semeniuk had just seeded his first field using variable rate fertilizer technology.

“We have been working with our Agri-Trend coach. He came out this morning and got everything set, but even so you’re wondering ‘Is this really going to work?’ But all went well,” he says. “It was exciting to watch and amazing to see how well it all worked. You just go and it makes all the decisions.”

Semeniuk applied VRT fertilizer to one 130 acre wheat field he refers to as his “Field of Dreams” in an on-farm trial to see how well the technology and concept works.

His air drill seeding system is equipped with three tanks. Prior to seeding, he used a floater to apply a flat rate of sulphur and potash to the field and then at seeding he put seed in one tank, nitrogen in another and phosphate in the third.

“It is a different approach because you have to keep everything separate, so when you refill the drill you have to have a truck for seed, then another for nitrogen and another for phosphate — it takes some getting use to.”

But the technology worked well as the pre-programed rate controller applied different rates of fertilizer over the different zones in the field. The first year of its effectiveness will be measured at harvest this fall.

“If I had to predict how well it worked, I would say at the very least, it makes fertilizer application more efficient,” says Semeniuk. “We probably didn’t use any less, but we applied at rates where it would do the most good and we weren’t over or under applying fertilizer over the field.” †

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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