Except for trying a few new varieties, producers prefer to stick with what works

“We pretty well stick with the same rotation that benefits the soil as opposed to making changes that follow the market.”

-Rod Lanier.

Prairie producers contacted for the Farmer Panel in this issue of Grainews aren’t planning any major changes in crop rotations for 2009.

Rotations are being tweaked to reflect markets as well as changing growing conditions –depending on where they farm these producers either have expanded irrigation, are trying to manage field conditions with too much moisture, or are in fact hoping for more snow to improve spring-seeding conditions.

The volatility of last year’s markets, which saw both commodity and input prices dramatically rise and fall in one calendar year, seems to have producers sticking with rotations for good agronomic reasons and waiting for the economy to settle out.

Here is what panel members had to say:

ROD LANIER LETHBRIDGE, ALBERTA

Aside from expansion of acres farmed under irrigation, Lethbridge, Alta.-area farmer Rod Lanier, isn’t planning any major changes in crop rotation for 2009.

Lanier, who crops about 3,300 acres just south of Lethbridge, says they plan to follow their four-year legume/durum/oilseed/ winter wheat rotation.

“We pretty well stick with the same rotation that benefits the soil as opposed to making changes that follow the market,” says Lanier. “I have made changes in the past and it always seems to get me into trouble.”

The preferred four-year rotation includes yellow peas (or other legume) followed by durum, followed by an oilseed which can be either/or both safflower for birdseed or flax, followed by winter wheat. Lanier, a third-generation farmer, follows a continuous cropping/ no-till farming system that was introduced by his father Ike Lanier more than 20 years ago.

“We are always interested in new varieties and try to include some test strips to see how the new compares to what we have been growing,” he says. As the St. Mary’s River Irrigation District expanded its distribution system, Lanier will have about 25 per cent of the farm under irrigation in 2009 up from about 10 per cent.

The peas or other legume in rotation, do an excellent job of preparing the soil for durum, says Lanier. He has been growing Delta peas, which has been a good variety, however, with a bit higher moisture during the 2008 growing season he says part of the crop showed the effects of fusarium wilt. Although too much moisture during the growing season isn’t usually a problem, Lanier may try a different variety with improved disease resistance this year.

AC Avonlea has been a good durum variety, but Lanier is interested in trying some of the newer varieties. AC Navigator is a newer semi-dwarf variety marketed through a closed-loop system by Viterra, which is one possibility depending on contract details. And AC Strongfield, a high-yielding, low-cadmium level variety is another option.

Safflower, a niche crop that grows well on dryland in southern Alberta, is produced for a small group of producers who market the crop to the birdseed market. Saffire safflower, which was developed at the Lethbridge Research Centre, is the leading variety.

Lanier plans to grow a new numbered flax variety with a larger seed that has improved harvestability. In recent years he has been combining the crop with a stripper header “which leaves a wonderful stubble for trapping snow,” he says.

The stripper header has fingers that essentially comb through the crop to remove seed heads, leaving a tall stubble intact. “Even if you drive on it, the stubble just bounces back up,” says Lanier. “It is a great crop for holding winter moisture.”

ERIC FRIDFINNSON ARBORG, MANITOBA

Last year’s extreme wet conditions at harvest may have the greatest impact on Eric Fridfinnson’s seeding plans for 2009.

Some of the forage seed acres on his Arborg, Manitoba area farm (north of Winnipeg) were pretty well flooded out, so some of that land will likely go into Roundup Ready canola this year. But, also for the first time in about 20 years he will be looking at tillage before seeding this spring to get rid of field ruts.

“It was just such a wet harvest season last year, that several fields are badly rutted,” says Fridfinnson, who along with his brother, Brian, crops about 5,000 acres of grains, oilseeds and pulse crops. The Fridfinnsons have been loyal zero-till producers for more than two decades.

“We bought a heavy cultivator last fall because we knew we had to do something,” he says. “The thought of having to work those fields does concern me. I think about all the progress we’ve made with zero till over the years, and now I am concerned as we work fields to get rid of the ruts we will be starting back at square one.”

The Fridfinnson crop rotation includes wheat, barley, flax, canola, forage seed, and sometimes peas. And they did try soybeans for the first time in 2008.

The 2009 rotation will be much the same, although they are trying some new varieties, reducing forage seed acres, increasing flax and canola and hope to try some faba beans.

“I Have To Look After The Production Side And Provide The Proper Nutrients And Crop Management, But I Can’t Micromanage Our Production Because So Much Of Crop Production Is Beyond Our Control. So Much Depends On The Weather.”

-David James

On the Hard Red Spring wheat side, Fridfinnson has been growing mostly CDC Go and Superb, but this year will likely make it a combination of Superb and a new Secan wheat AC Kane. Quite often they also have winter wheat in rotation, but again it was so wet last fall, that seeding winter wheat wasn’t an option. For barley they grow Tradition, a six-row malting variety registered in 2004 and AC Metcalfe a long-standing popular two-row variety.

Fridfinnson, who is a member of the Flax Council of Canada, in recent years has grown between 500 and 800 acres of Hanley flax, but plans to switch to Prairie Blue flax and bump up the acres in 2009. Prairie Blue is a newer variety with improved disease resistance. The flax is sold to a local processor for the human food market.

Some of last year’s forage seed acres will be seeded to Roundup Ready (RR) canola in 2009. Fridfinnson says canola is better able to handle fields that have been rutted, and although he has grown Invigor lines in the past, he’ll be using Roundup Ready this year to help get rid of any volunteer forage grasses. RR canola may also be seeded on previous winter wheat fields to help control newer weeds such as Japanese brome and downy brome.

Fridfinnson likes to keep a pulse crop on the farm to follow in rotation after winter wheat. The wheat takes a lot of nitrogen out of the soil and the pulse crop helps to rebuild reserves. He won’t be growing peas this year. Soybeans worked fairly well in 2008 so he may include them again, and he will be seeding some acres to faba beans. Working with another Manitoba producer, he hopes to market this low-tannin faba bean as feed to hog producers.

DAVID JAMES DUGALD, MANITOBA

David James plans to make some minor changes to his crop production program for 2009, but the certified seed grower says improving marketing and processing systems will probably receive more of his focus.

“You have to look after the

production side and provide the proper nutrients and crop management, but I can’t micromanage our production because so much of crop production is beyond our control,” says James, who crops about 5,000 acres. “So much depends on the weather. I am making a few changes this year but probably will pay more attention to making our processing plant more efficient and improving our

marketing program.

The crop rotation on James Farms Ltd. near Dugald, just east of Winnipeg, includes wheat, barley, oats, flax, grass seed and soybeans all produced as certified seed, as well as commercial canola and sunflowers for the birdseed market.

Even though he farms on fairly heavy soil, with moisture ranging from good to too good, depending on the year, he expects to seed more soybeans in 2009. With increasing demand for soybeans, and the fact they require lower inputs, he’ll be growing both Roundup Ready and non-GMO varieties (roughly a 60/40 split respectively).

With wheat he plans to switch from AC Barrie to a newer variety AC Kane. Fusarium head blight (FHB) and other diseases are a major concern for growers in Manitoba. While AC Kane has good FHB resistance, it also has improved leaf disease resistance over AC Barrie.

And sunflowers remain in rotation, as a good marketable crop to a local market. James processes and bags sunflowers on the farm to supply local retailers and for direct farm sales into the birdseed market. “We’re living next door to a population of nearly 750,000 people who enjoy feeding birds, so we might as well take advantage of that opportunity,” he says.

“Other than a few minor changes we will stay the course this year and watch the world economics. Last year things were so volatile, it will be interesting to see where this economy goes.”

JEFF BAILEY, EATONIA, SASKATCHEWAN

The biggest change on Jeff Bailey’s farm near Eatonia, in west-central Saskatchewan this year is a new farm shop being built in early March.

The young producer, who operates an 1,800-acre grain farm in a 50/50 cropping/chemfallow rotation, says he just bought a 60×60-foot Goodon Industries shelter for machinery storage and heated workshop.

Bailey follows a simple durum/ fallow rotation on his farm. He switched to AC Strongfield durum about three years ago. It has a shorter, stronger straw and good disease resistance.

He has grown canola and peas in the past, but finds the durum grows well in relatively dry conditions and provides a good return.

BRAD AUSMUS, LEADER SASKATCHEWAN

Brad Ausmus who runs a mixed-farming operation with several family members near Leader, Sask. says other than seeding winter wheat for the first time last fall, they plan no major changes for 2009.

The Ausmus family crops about 7,000 acres of durum, winter wheat, fall rye, canola and yellow peas, and also run a 1,000-head-capacity feedlot. They grow their own corn for silage.

They follow a zero-till cropping system with about two-thirds of the farm in crop and one-third in fallow. They grow AC Strongfield durum wheat, and last year grew Invigor 8440 canola for the first time.

“We usually grow some fall rye, but last year we also planted about 300 acres of winter wheat,” says Ausmus. “We planted the fall-seeded crop on canola stubble. It helps to spread out the workload a bit and is good to make a change in rotation.”

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by e-mail at [email protected]

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Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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