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Friendly Acres’ 2014 wrap up

Regular Grainews contributor Kevin Elmy sums up 2014 at his east-central Saskatchewan farm

flooded farmland

I am tired of rubber boots. This was Year 5 of well-above-growing-season rainfall.

May started off with lots of water. The plan was to seed soybeans, grazing corn, a grain corn trial, brown mustard, spring triticale and cover crops. By the end of May, we had seeded 600 acres of soybeans, 1/3 of an acre of grain corn trial, and six acres of grazing corn (we’d intended 35). A field of alfalfa was to be taken out and into cover crop, and our sainfoin field was still producing.

On November 2013, we dormant-seeded 150 acres of alfalfa into canola stubble and cover crop. Canola has exited our cropping plans. Just because we had made money in the past, the risk is not worth growing it.

From the last couple of years’ experience, we do not like or want to mud a crop in. If we mud it in, we are only two inches of rain away from having it drown out.

The next plan was to seed a cover crop into the unseeded acres, use moisture, create vertical drainage into the soil, recapture nutrients leached into the soil, or potentially off the field, and create stubble to seed winter triticale into.

June was a write off for trying to seed anything because of frequent rains. Then June 28 rolled around. Seven inches of rain overnight.

Water stopped running across our fields by the middle of July. The one dormant seeded alfalfa field was set back with the flooding, and foxtail barley took over so we worked it under. Two acres of our six acres of grazing corn flooded out.

Haying season resulted in getting stuck once, I got smart quick, but left some lower areas. The first year alfalfa looked like a field of sow thistle, but underneath we got a good catch of alfalfa. It didn’t get cut as early as I would have liked, but it got done.

We had 120 acres that we could not get to prior to the showers. By the end of July it as overgrown with foxtail barley. The only option we saw was to disk it under with a 14-foot disk. It proved to be an adventure, like everything else — we got stuck numerous times.

With the drier conditions during end of July and early August, the soil dried out enough to allow us to seed cover crops. We seeded 120 acres of straight tillage radish and 425 acres of a blend of tillage radish, red proso millet, sorghum sudangrass, crimson clover and sunflower the first 10 days of August.

Our initial goal was to get a cut of greenfeed off of the five-crop blend, but Mother Nature had other plans. The straight tillage radish crop was seeded to see if it would smother out weeds.

Tillage radish is a crop unlike any other. If it grows for more than six weeks without a frost, clipping, mowing, or graze, it will bolt and want to flower. Cutting the plant resets its clock. If a frost occurs, the plant will stop trying to be a spring annual to become a winter annual. As a spring annual, it will bolt, flower and try to produce seed. As a winter annual, it will produce a larger root and tuber to store nutrients and energy so the plant and try to overwinter. Three nights of -9 C kills the plant. If it has bolted, it will be harder to work with because the bolted plant will have more lignin in the stem.

The key is to seed tillage radish within six weeks of frost. At a six to eight pound seeding rate, it will cover the ground after three weeks, assuming there is moisture.

Until the snow got too deep too see the radish by the end of November, they were still green. The tubers were from one to three inches in diameter, six to 12 inches long.

We got some Luoma winter triticale seeded into the cover crop land. Tillage radish got a little too leafy for my liking but made it work. Next year, I will include more sunflowers in a blend that we are using as a cover crop. We like how it gets quick height, has better salinity tolerance and is killed with the first frost.

Corn grazing did not last long. 20 animals cleaned up the four acres in 30 days. Corn does not like to be flooded. Since there was too much variability in production, this is the first year we will not generate any yield data off of our corn. Where it stayed out of the water, it did well.

Soybean harvest was delayed due to the late September rains, but went smoothly. Early optimism was dashed when we went from the higher land to the lower land. The higher land was yielding between 35 and 50 bushels per acre. Lower land that got extra water ran around 10. Overall we had a 28 bushel per acre average, 38 per cent protein and 19 per cent oil.

Next year, if Drew Lerner’s early 2015 prediction is correct, may get us back into our normal rotation. We will give Azuki beans one more chance and I am looking for some sesame to try. Canola still is not on my list of crops to grow. Keeping on with soybeans, alfalfa, sainfoin, grazing corn, and winter triticale.

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