Farmers in Manitoba were waiting for the snow to stop, a producer in central Saskatchewan was probably a month away from getting to fieldwork and in southern Alberta a producer was planning to start seeding durum in a few days (and some of his colleagues already had seed in the ground). That’s just how variable conditions were across Western Canada in early April as producers participating in the Farmer Panel where asked about what’s new on their farm for the 2016 cropping season.
New varieties, new seed treatments, new input application methods and not making any changes were among the approaches farmers were planning for the coming season.
From southern and central Manitoba, to central Saskatchewan, to southern and central Alberta all also reported good to excellent moisture conditions for their respective farms. While market prices for most commodities are down or at least flat this year, farmers were optimistic with good moisture and fine tuned management, it had the beginnings of a good year ahead.
Here are what farmers across Western Canada had to say about their plans for the 2016 cropping season.
While he’s surrounded by brown field conditions in his part of central Alberta, Jason Craig says it was still a bit too wet in early April to get on the land for some pre-seeding preparation. He had tried to harrow a few fields on his farm at Delburne, east of Red Deer, but it was muddy in places.
In the meantime shop work awaited as he had just taken delivery a new Valmar tank that he was adding to his John Deere 1910, three-tank air seeding system.
“We are adding the Valmar tank to the air seeding system to give us more capacity,” says Craig who produces white wheat, faba beans, canola and malt barley.
Craig has been incorporating variable rate fertilizer technology on his farm over the past four years, so the tanks on the John Deere are committed to fertilizer and seed depending on the crop.
“I am planning to use the Valmar tank to apply granular inoculant when I seed faba beans and then it will be used for seed when we plant canola,” says Craig. He says it will also be handy this year as he conducts micronutrient trials on his farm, evaluating both copper and zinc treatments.
Also on the fertility side, he was planning a top-dress nitrogen fertilizer treatment on his canola this year. He had tried it in the past with mixed results, but wanted to try it again.
“I am planning to top dress canola depending on how the year looks,” says Craig. “At seeding we’ll apply the full fertility rate that matches our yield goals, and then if growing conditions are favourable I will come back during the season and top dress with a 28-0-0 application.” He’ll apply a liquid foliar application if growing conditions are favourable.
And on the crop variety front, he is trying a new high yielding white wheat variety called AAC Chiffon, developed at the Lethbridge Research Station. While the crop is usually grown under irrigation, Craig says he has had good success growing a predecessor, Sadash white wheat. “They are high yielding varieties that perform quite well in my area,” says Craig. He has a feed market available for white wheat for hog rations, but if the quality is good, it can also be used for milling purposes.
For the first time in a while, Rod Lanier who farms near Lethbridge says he isn’t planning any changes this spring and will stick with the program he had last year. Lanier who has both irrigated and dryland will be producing hemp, flax, peas and durum in 2016.
He’s been one of the pioneers in the industrial hemp industry in Western Canada, evaluating and producing the crop for eight years. He has developed a hemp grain market for production of hemp hearts, but like many other hemp growers he’s still waiting for the fibre market to take off. There is lots of talk and optimism in the industry, but so far the bricks and mortar to process the residue into a wide range of consumer and industrial products, just hasn’t materialize.
And Lanier is a long time believer of the benefit of having flax in rotation. “We don’t grow canola, so flax is our canola,” says Lanier whose family farm has been practicing no-till farming for 28 years. “What I really like is what flax does for the next crop the following year. It has the highest mycorrhizae activity of any crop we can grow here. Any crop we grow after flax does really well.” Lanier says flax in rotation helps to stimulate the activity of beneficial soil microbes. And he even likes the straw. With combines equipped with stripper headers he leaves tall standing stubble which traps snow over winter. Although it has been a relatively dry winter in southern Alberta he says he was able to easily push a soil moisture probe down 30 inches, which tells him the moisture is there for the 2016 crop.
The one new element of his 2016 cropping program will introduce a new durum variety, CDC Vivid, into the rotation this year.
While some southern Alberta farmers had already been seeding barley during this early spring, Lanier says he was planning to do a spring herbicide burnoff starting April 11, and then a few days later start seeding durum. Peas will follow the durum and then there may be a short break with flax seeded in early May and hemp seeded in late May. “If these conditions hold it could be a fairly relaxed seeding season,” he says.
Rose Valley, Sask.
With cool temperatures and still the odd snowflake in the air Jeff Prosko who farms with family members at Rose Valley, Sask. figured it would be another month (early May) before they are looking at 2016 fieldwork.
Prosko along with his wife Ebony and other family members crop about 20,000 acres of oats and canola on the east-central Saskatchewan farm, due east of Saskatoon. The Proskos also own the ProSoils ag retail centre in Rose Valley.
One new element of their 2016 program will be to contract the services of a helicopter for aerial application of fungicides. With rust in oats and sclerotinia in canola two of the common disease problems in their area, Prosko has in the past used fixed-wing aerial applicators, and most often just gone out to apply a fungicide treatment with the field sprayer.
“ProSoil was able to line up a helicopter company that provided aerial application services so we will be trying that this year,” says Prosko. Price-wise it is quite comparable to fixed wing application, and he figures the helicopter can provide an improved level of application.
The helicopter can apply product from about 10 feet above crop canopy, it can travel at a slower 70 to 80 miles per hour (a fixed wing is about double that speed) and the helicopter can apply product with four to five gallons of water per acre. “We are thinking the helicopter applicator can provide improved coverage of the crop,” says Prosko. “It can travel closer to the crop canopy at a slower speed, and apply product with plenty of water.” The large helicopter will have capacity to carry about 300 gallons of water and chemical.
Along with the new aerial application method, Prosko says he also hopes to test a few plots of soybeans, even though his area is “even beyond the fringe” for soybean production. And as he has been a regular user of anhydrous ammonia as a form of nitrogen fertilizer, he will also be trying some plots of a nitrogen stabilizer product, N-Serve, produced by Dow AgroSciences to evaluate its effectiveness.
With still snow on the ground in early April, Kendall Heise who farms near Beulah in west-central Manitoba doesn’t expect to be on the land before early May.
Along with wheat he also grows peas, flax and canola and will be trying his fourth year of soybeans this spring. His “new” production practice for 2016 is to try a split application of nitrogen on a newer higher yielding variety of the General Purpose wheat in an attempt to reduce lodging.
Heise is planning a split application of fertilizer this year in hopes of improving the standability of two high yielding wheat varieties. He’s been growing AAC Penhold, a Canadian Prairie Spring (CPS) wheat, along with Pasteur, a high yielding, milling wheat originally developed in Holland which fits into the General Purpose class.
“AAC Penhold is manageable but the Pasteur really has a tendency to go down,” says Heise. “I like growing it and it fits well in a number of markets, but if it does lodge yields are dramatically reduced.”
Heise had considered using a plant growth regulator but any crops carrying the residue of popular PGR products can’t be exported to the U.S.
So his plan this spring is to apply about 85 to 90 pounds of nitrogen with the wheat crop at time of seeding, and then follow up with another 20 to 25 pounds of N at the jointing stage (between tillering and early boot stages). He applies most of his fertilizer at seeding with a Seed Hawk drill that places the fertilizer to the side and below the seed. The top dress will be applied with a field sprayer.
“With the split application we have to option to see how the season is going and if growing conditions are suitable apply the top dress,” he says.
Heise will also be evaluating straight cutting canola this year. He usually swaths the crop, but this year he will also try about 160 acres of a new InVigor variety from Bayer Crop Science, L140P, which carries improved pod shatter resistance. He will compare it with other InVigor varieties, which will be swathed.
Fred Fridfinnson is looking forward to having an effective seed treatment for flax this year. There really hasn’t been an effective product that can be used with the oilseed, however after evaluating about 40 acres of flax treated with BASF’s Insure Pulse under a research permit in 2015, Fridfinnson is pleased to see the product now registered for use on flax.
“We’ve always grown quite a few acres of flax and it is one of those crops that can appear quite wimpy when it comes out of the ground,” says Fridfinnson, who farms near Arborg in central Manitoba, just west of Lake Winnipeg. “And there hasn’t been an effective seed treatment product. But we were really impressed with the vigor of flax treated with Insure Pulse in 2015. It was noticeable visually and then yields increased as well. Although it was only one year, it looks promising and having this seed treatment will be a real help to us and other flax growers.”
Another new or perhaps ongoing element in the Canadian agriculture industry is the continued consolidation of farm supply and ag retail outlets. While Fridfinnson says he is still fortunate to have a choice of suppliers in his area, consolidation and buy-outs are eliminating many of the independents and reducing competition.
“This is something we as producers need to be paying attention to and do whatever we can to encourage competition in the ag retail business and where competition is limited do our best to shop around for the best prices,” he says.