hether growing conditions were too wet or too dry, the 2010 season taught Prairie farmers some valuable lessons about crop production and management, according to farmers contacted for the December Farmer Panel.
Their advice? Follow proper seeding practices, pay attention to varieties, try to be as timely as possible in the use of crop protection products, pay attention to markets and, on the most stressful days, dig down deep for patience.
The Peace River region of Alberta and B.C. was generally dry, although some areas got a bit of rain. For others it was the driest year in a series of dry years. Elsewhere, over much of Western Canada, excessive moisture posed a big challenge for farmers. It was great for replenishing soil moisture reserves, but in some areas it never quit.
It is doubtful there is ever generally a great production year across Western Canada, some region always takes a hit from some weather extreme. But, if there is a silver lining to extreme conditions, it does help to point out the strengths and weaknesses of production and management practices.
Here is what the December panel had to say about lessons learnt from 2010:
STUART MANNESS DOMAIN, MAN.
If there was one message driven home to Stuart Manness through the cool and very wet spring, summer and fall, this year it’s that “nothing is for certain.”
Manness, who farms at Domain in Manitoba’s Red River Valley says, in particular, he has never seen so much change in the market outlook, not just from one season to the next, but almost from one day to the next.
“You really have to be watching every day,” says Manness who along with his family crops about 2,000 acres of wheat, oats, barley, canola, flax, faba beans and perennial rye grass (for seed). “This year in particular there has just been so much change from what we heard in the spring to what we’re seeing this fall.
“I look at some of the market newsletters I have received earlier this year and the situation is almost completely opposite to where we are now. At one point, for example, the advice was to pre-sell canola at a great price of $8.50 and now it is about $13 per bushel.
“The main thing that has hit me this year is that nothing is for certain and markets can change, shall we say, unexpectedly.”
Manness says the volatility of the marketplace is putting pressure on farmers to make decisions now, so they can capture a good price 10 to 12 months in the future.
He says weather is the catalyst for much of the market volatility, but it really is investors who drive the prices. As investors see an opportunity to make a dollar, big money flows in, and when the opportunity fades, money flows out and goes into other commodities.
“As producers we have to figure out how to take advantage of these market swings,” he says. “Farmers today have to be very familiar with trading and how that all works.”
Manness says their farming operation will be looking at a range of marketing tools, such as forward pricing contracts, the futures market and options as a way to cash in on opportunities and at the same time minimize risk.
On the production side, probably the biggest lesson he learned in 2010, is that soybeans seemed to handle the wet conditions well this year. He didn’t grow any himself, but may consider it for 2011. He says despite excess moisture, the crop appeared to produce well and yield good quality.
He expects in his area to see more soybeans and a reduction in cereal acres next year. He will continue to include canola and legumes in his rotation as well.
While there is not a lot of standing water in his area this fall, the ground is saturated. “Come winter, the Red River Valley will be one big ice cube,” he says. “And if we happen to get a heavy snowfall this winter we will definitely have some flooding problems next spring.”
LINDA SCHMIDT MANNING, ALTA.
Despite the dry growing season they experienced, again, Linda Schmidt, who farms at Manning in the northern Alberta Peace River region says one lesson learned in 2010 is to keep a better eye on diseases in pulse crops.
Schmidt, along with husband Ed, crop about 2,000 acres, says in particular they have to watch for disease in faba beans. “It hasn’t been an issue before, but this year we saw signs of disease, which means it is something we have to be prepared for next year,” says Schmidt.
Schmidt, who also produces peas, canola and wheat, has been increasing faba bean production over the past five years. From a few acres to test the crop, she produced about 150 acres in 2010. “The crop has done well even under dry conditions,” she says. “But we need to be prepared to treat with a fungicide next year.” Schmidt says their area was very dry during the growing season, but then it rained in September just at harvest.
Schmidt says they also plan to keep a newer wheat, CDC Go, in rotation for 2011. They only grew a small field of the Hard Red Spring wheat variety, but says it yielded better than other wheats.
CDC Go, registered in 2005, is a semi-dwarf Hard Red Spring, which is a cross between two U.S. varieties — Grandin and SD3055. It has high yield and protein, good straw strength, reasonable disease resistance and early maturity. While moisture wasn’t a limiting factor in many parts of Western Canada in 2010, it is a variety with high water use efficiency, able to produce nearly 11 bushels of grain per inch of rainfall. According to the Canadian Wheat Board, CDC Go is the No. 3-favoured HRSW variety in Alberta with 12 per cent of the acres.
BERNIE SCHOORLEMMER RYCROFT, ALTA.
Bernie Schoorlemmer who farms near Rycroft in the central Alberta Peace region says the major lesson learned from 2010 is the value of crop insurance.
“All I can say is that I am sure glad I had crop insurance,” says Schoorlemmer, noting that after three dry growing seasons, 2010 was the worst. “You learn that the Peace River region is full of radical swings. We’ve had a series of dry years, but when it does start to rain, it will likely be too much. You can’t assume anything here, you really have to farm for every condition.”
Schoorlemmer and his family crop about 12,000 acres of peas, canola, Hard Red Spring wheat, Red Winter wheat and oats. He isn’t planning any major changes in varieties or rotation for 2011 but says, “I will keep a sharp pencil on risk management.”
RON WIKKERINK BOW ISLAND, ALTA.
Learning to have patience was one of the big lessons for Ron Wikkerink who farms with his family near Bow Island in southern Alberta.
With wet conditions in the spring, it seemed like it was taking forever to get the crop seeded, and with the window closing on the cut-off point to get seed in the ground, some days were pretty tense.
“I think the big lesson is not to panic,” says Wikkerink, who along with is brother crop about 2,500 acres of mostly irrigated land. “There were a few days where you start to freak out because you can’t get at seeding. Crop insurance only pays something like $30 per acre on land that isn’t seeded, and that doesn’t go very far when you have high rental payments to make.
“But you just have to learn to work around the weather pattern. You can’t change the weather and getting all worked up doesn’t help. And as it turned out we did get everything seeded pretty well within the deadlines, but you just have to learn to take what comes.”
With the crop in the ground and fairly extreme rainfall, the Wikkerinks were initially pessimistic about how crops would fare, but at harvest were pleasantly surprised.
“Yields and quality turned out better than we originally thought,” says Wikkerink who produces sugar beets, dry beans, spring wheat and durum. “There was nothing phenomenal, but yields were average to, in some cases, above average so overall not bad.”
There was also a disease lesson in the 2010 growing season. Wheat was hit harder by fusarium head blight this year, and more mould materialized in the beans.
“We had seen a bit of fusarium in the past, but we always considered it a Manitoba problem,” says Wikkerink. “But that wasn’t the case. Particularly because of the weather it was much more of an issue this past year and we have to learn to manage that.”
And while white mould or sclerotinia is largely a fact of life when growing dry field beans, it too was much more prevalent in 2010.
“So next year we have to pay more attention to fungicides,” he says. “We have to look at our options with wheat varieties, and also look at treatment options as well. And we’ve always applied fungicide to beans for mould, but again we have to look at some new options. What we’ve been doing just doesn’t seem to be cutting it, so we will have to look at the whole treatment area. We need to look at new products, perhaps look at putting on more water, maybe look at the timing. When you have land rental payments to make it is important to maximize yields and I think this year white mould was probably the biggest yield robber we faced. So that is another challenge we have to include in our management.”
GERRID GUST DAVIDSON, SASK.
The wet growing season of 2010 emphasized the importance of two key crop production practices to the Gust family of south-central Saskatchewan — pay close attention to seeding details and use fungicides to control disease.
Giving the crop every opportunity for a good start, and then being timely with treatments to control disease help to optimize both yield and quality, says Gerrid Gust, who along with brother Bill and their dad Steve, crop about 16,000 acres about halfway between Regina and Saskatoon.
“This past season just emphasized the importance of using good-quality seed, proper seeding depth and the value of seed treatments,” says Gust, who grows lentils, canola, Soft White wheat (for ethanol), barley and some mustard.
“Use seed that has good vigour, get it placed properly and do what you can to prevent damage from pests and seedling diseases. It is especially important in a year when you don’t have ideal growing conditions. It is important to do everything right because if you screw up you spend the rest of the year in painful recovery.”
On lentils, Gust uses the Apron Maxx seed treatment which helps protect the seed and seedling under cool conditions, and on both wheat and barley they treat seed with Cruiser Maxx. It helps protect seed and seedlings against wireworm and seedling diseases, he says.
Gust says, like much of the province, they faced a challenging seeding season due to excessive moisture. They did get most of their crop seeded early — by early May. But the last third had to be mudded in as late as early June. They weren’t able to seed about 20 per cent of their land.
“Even though it was cool and wet the stuff that was seeded early did fairly well with reasonable quality,” he says. “The later-seeded crops had a tough time, and most of that ended up as feed grade.
“We’re just figuring out our varieties and rotation now and as part of that planning we’re looking for good-quality seed, plan for a seed treatment and (will work to) get it seeded at the proper depth.”
Diseases were also a challenge in 2010, he says. They usually apply one in-crop fungicide treatment to lentils, and in 2009 treated some of the barley with a fungicide. In 2010, lentils were treated twice, and all wheat and barley were treated with a fungicide, mostly to control rust and other leaf diseases, although fusarium head blight is starting to show up more each year.
“It really paid to get these treatments on this year, to help protect both crop yield and quality,” he says. “Unfortunately we didn’t get the canola sprayed for sclerotinia and we should have. I guess we were too busy with the other crops at that time, and it would have been better to have hired someone to do the canola, because it really took a hit from sclerotinia.”
Gust figures across Saskatchewan canola and wheat acres will likely be up in 2011, while lentil acres will likely drop as they are pulled out of rotation in non-traditional areas, less suitable for lentil production.
LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsin Calgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]