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Coping with all those wet spring soils

After last fall’s moisture, spring seeding is going to require patience and flexibility

Patience is a virtue, but it’s not an easy one to practice, especially when it involves waiting for saturated fields to dry up so you can get out and seed this year’s crop.

Last fall left many Prairie fields already saturated thanks to late fall rains and early snowfalls, and after a winter with heavy snowfalls, and predictions of flooding in some areas, farmers are understandably a little edgy about when they will be able to get on their fields this spring.

Exacerbating the situation is the fact that some still have last year’s unharvested crops to deal with before they can even begin seeding this year’s crops.

Agronomist Reinhard Bachmeier of Parkland Agrophysics has been urging his clients to get out on their fields this winter to clean up those crops. “If producers have a crop like corn still out in the field they have to do something with it, so I have been suggesting that they get out there even in -30 and harvest that corn,” says Bachmeier. “The frozen ground can carry the equipment, and gives an opportunity to clean up the field and in some cases dry down the crop so it is still usable.”

It was still very wet during the soybean harvest.
photo: Matt Lehenbauer

Farmers who did get all their crops harvested, didn’t all manage it in ideal conditions, and will have some seriously ugly fields to deal with in the spring if they couldn’t get out again last fall to clean up the ruts.

Cliff Banman has a grain and dairy farm near New Bothwell, Manitoba, and says his land is currently the wettest it’s been in 10 years, but he’s surprised how variable the wet weather was last year. Banman got all his crops off and worked all his fields at least once, but this spring he will have to do a bit more tillage than normal to get a better seed bed, but he’s planning as if it’s going to be a normal year, while remaining flexible if it isn’t. “If it’s not drying out quick enough and I can’t get corn seed in the ground by the end of May then I will take some corn acres out, and go for a cereal like oats or barley,” he says.

Being flexible

There’s no doubt that excess moisture — just like drought — causes a lot of stress and hardship for many farmers, which is why many are taking higher crop insurance this year and being as flexible as possible in their crop plans to make sure they are ready for whatever Mother Nature throws at them.

Arnaud, Manitoba, area farmer Matt Lehenbauer battles excess moisture conditions constantly. In the 18 years that he has farmed he has only had one year that was too dry. Last year he got 40 inches of rain between May and early October and then gave up keeping track. Although he got all his crops off some of his neighbours still have corn and soybeans in their fields, and he’ll have to do some tillage this spring to smooth out a few rutted fields before he can seed.

“We have had a lot of snow, so that hasn’t helped the situation,” says Lehenbauer. “We need a warm, dry spring and any kind of big rainfall at the end of April or early May rain will probably delay us right to the end of May or early June. If it gets that late, obviously we’re cutting it fine for crop insurance deadlines, and yield potential goes down because in this area we like to start seeding ideally the end of April or early May.”

Like many of his neighbours, Lehenbauer has upped his crop insurance moisture coverage this year. “It doesn’t pay all the bills but it does help if we can’t seed,” he says.

Wet weather has left farmers with deep ruts to cope with in the spring. This photo was taken in the Fork River area, north of Dauphin, Man., in the Parkland Region.
photo: Supplied

Wet weather has left farmers with deep ruts to cope with in the spring. This photo was taken in the Fork River area, north of Dauphin, Man., in the Parkland Region.
photo: Supplied

Having an alternative crop plan

Lehenbauer did manage to get a lot of his field work done in November during a week of good weather that allowed him to take out the cultivator and deep tiller and clean up a lot of rutted fields. There are still a few fields he will have to smooth out with some tillage this spring, but he’s optimistic that he will get 90 per cent of his land seeded, and he’s prepared to be flexible with his crop plan.

“The equipment will be all ready to go and as soon as we can get out there, we’ll be out there, and we may get a little aggressive and seed probably a bit on the early side, but we have 4,300 acres to cover, so we just don’t have the time to wait for the conditions to be completely ideal, this year especially,” he says.

Lehenbauer usually seeds wheat, canola, then soybeans last when the soil has warmed up and there’s no frost risk, but if it’s getting towards mid-May the soybeans will take priority for seeding. “Soybeans has been a crop in the last few years that has paid out the best, and they can handle moisture better so there’s less risk and less input costs too. Corn’s probably out for this year. If it’s really wet we’ll go back to canola because that’s something we can broadcast on, and harrow in and hope for a crop. We’ve done that in the past with some success.”

And if it gets to the stage where some of his fields aren’t going to get seeded, Lehenbauer says he’ll start thinking about next year. “If it gets too late there will definitely be drainage projects in the summer, to hopefully get fields into shape for next year,” says Lehenbauer, who put his first tile drainage system in last fall. “We put tile drainage in late last fall on a field that is 70 per cent clay and I am not sure it’s been done on that kind of heavy clay before in Manitoba, so it will be interesting to see how it works.”

Going with the flow

Weeds could be another big headache for farmers who weren’t able to get effective control last season or after harvest. Lehenbauer already has some major weed issues in some of his fields, and is hoping he doesn’t have to content with both seeding and spraying in the same tight window during the spring. “It could be a very busy two or three weeks,” he says.

Despite his frustration with last year’s wet conditions, Lehenbauer remains philosophical about the upcoming year. “At some point you just have to realize there’s really nothing you can do about it,” he says. “We will have our seed, fertilizer and equipment all ready to go on demand and hopefully we will get that nice window of 10 to 14 days and get everything done. We’ve had many challenging springs, but if we can get a lot of crop in if we get that two weeks. We’ll just have to go with the flow.”

Rain came, just after winter wheat was seeded into canola stubble.
photo: Matt Lehenbauer

About the author

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Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at http://alovell.ca or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.

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