Whether you farm in the Alberta Peace River region, southeast Saskatchewan or Manitoba s Red River Valley the challenge heading into 2012 is to manage the soil and crop rotations in the wake of extreme wet and/or dry conditions in 2011.
Most farmers contacted for the November Farmer Panel are making some changes in their agronomic and crop production practices for 2012. Those changes may mean more soil testing, more tillage to repair rutted fields or, in some cases, to dry the soil, changes in crop rotation or beefing up equipment used to improve field drainage.
Nick Sekulic says after four years of extreme weather conditions, he plans to soil test most of his Peace River region farm to get a better idea of where soil fertility is at for this coming year.
Sekulic, who along with his family, crops about 7,000 acres of grains, oilseeds and pulses, says after three extremely dry years ( 08, 09 and 10), fortunes reversed themselves in 2011 giving them heavy snow fall and good spring moisture, followed with about 20 inches of rain over a short period early in the growing season.
The rain was welcome but it was, in many respects, too much, he says. We had cool, wet conditions which slowed crop growth. The saving grace was that we didn t have a killing frost until October, so we actually saw an excellent crop due in part to fertility carryover in the soil from the past three seasons.
Sekulic follows a consistent rotation that includes winter wheat, spring wheat, oats, peas and canola. With the expected changes in wheat and barley marketing next year, he may look at including malt barley in rotation again. He has been direct seeding for about 20 years.
He plans to soil test all annual cropped fields this fall, except the winter wheat which was seeded in early fall, and will skip those fields ear marked for peas in 2012.
On our farm we had historical record yields on cereals this year but we have to remember for the past three years it has been dry which created high nutrient carryover, he says. Now this year with so much rain, and some very good yields, we need to determine where fertility levels are.
He says the wheat handled the excessive moisture very well, although it was too much of a good thing for the peas, causing below average yields.
Some farmers in the area are applying anhydrous ammonia this fall which will also help to work down higher crop residue and level out field ruts created during field spraying operations, however, Sekulic says he will stay with a one-pass, direct seeding system next spring.
And, as a long time mixed farming operation, he also plans to rebuild a commercial cow-calf operation. Most of the herd was liquidated last fall due to a shortage of grass and winter feed. He did keep 60 heifers from that herd and will begin rebuilding numbers, and of course now after all that rain there is all kinds of feed in the country, he says.
Ryan Kubinec, who farms about 4,000 acres with his family near Westlock, northwest of Edmonton, says after a couple years of not soil testing, they plan to soil test the whole farm this year.
We have applied some variable rate technology to part of the farm so those fields have been intensively tested, but we haven t tested the rest of the farm for a couple years, he says. We ve just gone with what we considered a good fertilizer program a good healthy dose based on historical rates. After this year s growing season that was both very dry and then very wet, however, he wants to get a handle on soil fertility levels.
The crop was seeded in a timely manner in May, but then it turned dry for a few weeks, with lots of wind. But then with the first rainfall after that later in June we got about five inches of rain at once, he says. And that was followed by another three inches. So we went from none to too much at once.
Kubinec follows a rotation that includes hard red spring and CPS wheat, as well as canola and peas. The earliest crops seeded grew well and were ready for combining in late August, but later seeded crops had uneven emergence, with uneven maturity that delayed harvest.
Yields on wheat and canola were generally quite good, and although the pea crop looked excellent, it was hit by disease. He applied one fungicide treatment, but in hindsight a second should have been applied. What should have been an excellent pea crop turned out to have average yields.
Kubinec, who crops about 4,000 acres with his father Tim and younger brother Timothy, says he plans to soil test the whole farm this fall. Usually they have pre-bought all fertilizer by the end of harvest, but with fertilizer prices being up, and the fact they had no bin space for storage, they hope to buy fertilizer later this fall and early winter once soil testing is completed.
While he generally follows a direct seeding system, he will apply maintenance tillage to low spots that flooded out earlier in the summer, and also work over ruts created during field spraying operations.
MARCEL VAN STAVEREN
After he got only about 500 acres of his 13,000 acre farm seeded last spring, due to excessive moisture in southeast Saskatchewan, Marcel van Staveren says he has or will make several changes to his cropping program for 2012.
Water was trickling through culverts all last winter and conditions only got wetter as spring arrived, so with no crop seeded, van Staveren said in an earlier interview this year, his focus was all about taking steps to produce a crop in 2012.
Field conditions have improved quite a bit since last spring, although we have had some rain this fall, he says. We ve had about four inches of rain since September so we are still good, but we are probably one good rainfall away from having too much. I am hoping the rain holds off and we get just enough snow to provide good cover for the winter wheat. That s what we need.
To deal with excessive soil moisture, van Staveren let about 6,500 acres of volunteer canola grow. It was an Invigor variety and he did aerial apply herbicide to control weeds such as wild buckwheat. After doubling swaths, he combined the crop which only yielded about four bushels per acre, but that was enough to recover input costs with a few dollars to spare, and it did help drawn down the water table, he says.
He also re-introduced some tillage to the long-time direct seeding, zero till operation. He treated about 20 per cent of all fields with a tandem disc in mid summer, mostly to repair field ruts and treat some of the heavily weeded low spots. He also covered about 40 per cent of the farm with a 41-foot Salford vertical tillage tool. The wavy coulter action of the tool helps facture the soil profile down which helps the soil dry out.
While usually all fertilizer goes on at seeding, he also banded anhydrous ammonia this fall to about 80 per cent of his cropped acres. He did that to make use of a fertilizer credit from last spring, and again the application helps dry out the soil.
For the first time in about 14 years he seeded winter wheat in late summer. We haven t had winter wheat on this farm since 1997, but we seeded about 1,400 acres in late August and it looks fantastic, he says. Now we need just about six inches of snow to protect it over winter.
Next spring he plans to seed about 600 acres of soybeans. A few people in the area have been growing them the last few years, and they seem to do quite well, and they appear to handle the moisture very well, he says. He worked those acres to blacken the ground, because it appears soybeans do better with tillage, and again it helps dry out the fields. We have had mostly a durum and canola rotation so we ll try the winter wheat and soybeans, he says.
If there is a good side to having a year with no crop it s that we got a lot of clean up done this summer, he says. I kept the guys working and we took out some old fences, rolled up barbed wire and picked rocks. It is a shame to miss out on a year with high commodity prices, but the clean up is good and helps make fields more efficient.
Kelly Kabernick is planning a status quo program for 2012 on his 3,000 acre Sanford, Manitoba farm, near Winnipeg.
He says it was a year of extremes ranging from extremely wet conditions at seeding to record breaking dry by harvest time.
It started out very wet, but we got everything seeded, although some areas drowned out, says Kabernick. And then it turned dry, everything matured and we had a very easy harvest.
Kabernick, as usual, made one tillage pass after harvest to work down crop residue. He doesn t always soil test, but he pays attention crop yield and fertilize accordingly to maintain yields.
He is working to clean out drainage ditches on the farm this fall, but that is more routine maintenance as well.
Although it appears to be dry conditions this fall, he isn t concerned about adequate moisture for seeding. I haven t really seen a dry year yet, he says. Even now with this heavy ground if you break through that first foot of soil which in some places is like concrete, there is still plenty of subsurface moisture below.
Red River valley farmer Kerry Cadieux is doing what he can this fall to improve drainage on the family s 3,800 acre farm which will hopefully gain them a few days of earlier seeding in 2012.
With extremely wet conditions in 2011, Cadieux who farms with his father, Bob, bought a second track tractor which pulled a harrow ahead of the air seeding system in the spring. And, now this fall, that Case IH Quadtrac machine is pulling a larger scraper to contour fields to improve drainage.
It was so wet last spring we bought it almost at the last moment to work ahead of the seeding equipment, says Cadieux. It was so wet we couldn t go anywhere with the JD 9520T, but the Case Quadtrac was able to travel.
They normally don t harrow ahead of the air seeding unless fields are a bit rough, but in 2011 they used tillage in hopes of drying out the saturated soil.
This fall, the John Deere 9520T is pulling a small scraper that digs the grade and then the Case Quadtrac is pulling a larger scraper which moves more dirt and handles the grunt work. The equipment is guided by John Deere Surface Water Pro software system.
Cadieux grows about 800 acres of corn along with barley, wheat, canola and soybeans. After harvest they usually make two tillage passes to work in crop residue, control weeds and help dry out the soil.
Another new approach, this fall, was to apply phosphate to most of the farm during the second deep tillage operation.
In the last few years we have been cutting back on fertilizer, but we were concerned we might be starting to mine the soil, he says. So now we are going the other way and applying more fertilizer. We wanted to get more phosphate on so we outfitted the tillage equipment with a fertilizer manifold kit and applied the phosphate about four to five inches deep during that second pass.
Also to get more nitrogen to the corn, other than applying a liquid application in-crop, Cadieux applied anhydrous ammonia to corn acres this fall. With the rest of the crops, all fertility, including higher rates of anhydrous ammonia will be applied in a one pass seeding system in spring.
Other than the Quadtrac we haven t added any other equipment, and we are working to increase our fertility program this fall, as well, he says. We are going to keep the same rotation next year, but with changes in marketing we plan to grow more malt barley than we have before. ”
LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsatCalgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orbyemailat [email protected]