Spring conditions across the Prairies

Spring is a crucial time for crop production. This spring condition round-up will help you see where you stand

Spring conditions can go a long way in determining the quality of grain that’s harvested. Fortunately for many Prairie farmers this year, conditions are greatly improved from previous saturated seasons.

Saskatchewan

Many farmers in the west-central and northwestern parts of the province welcomed the rain because, up until late spring, subsoil moisture conditions were low and needed recharging before planting operations started.

The same could not be said of the southeast and east-central regions, where farmers didn’t need more precipitation. In fact, they were counting on drying weather in order to gain access to acres they couldn’t reach last year.

Spring weather is crucial for crops — wet conditions can limit farmers’ opportunities to get to their fields and stall their seeding programs. If planting is delayed too long, crops are at risk of early frost damage and other challenging harvest conditions that appear going into September and October, says Saskatchewan Agriculture cropping management specialist Grant McLean.

Too much rain can also inhibit pre-seeding weed control efforts, which was the case in portions of east-central and southeast Saskatchewan, which received significant amounts of precipitation in recent weeks, he notes.

Previous years’ wet spring weather also halted weed control applications, and gave rise to the potential for harvested grain quality to be undermined when it went into storage. The high moisture content of immature weed seeds that remain in harvested grain can increase that grain’s stored moisture and temperatures, creating favourable conditions for insects and fungi.

The rainfall hasn’t put a damper on diamondback moths, which were spotted in Saskatchewan and across the Prairies. McLean, however, says the province’s traps reveal the numbers aren’t significant in Saskatchewan yet.

Alberta

The same can’t be said for Alberta, where an early spring came with a very early and substantial population of diamondback moths.

Early monitoring levels suggest damaging populations are possible by the end of the growing season, according an Alberta Agriculture report.

“It’s relatively early and it sets us up for damage from population as the season goes along,” said the report’s author, insect management specialist Scott Meers.

His report cautions that this doesn’t automatically translate into a need for spraying. Natural enemies can terminate potential outbreaks of this insect, and Meers stresses farmers be careful to treat the larvae only when the economic conditions warrant.

Another potential problem for farmers in the province is ergot, according to crop specialist Harry Brook.

That’s going to be a real interesting situation, especially if we have another wet spring — it’s going to set up the Prairie provinces for just an explosion of ergot. We’ve had two wet springs in a row; if we have a third one, we’ll have real problems with it,” Brook says.

But he doesn’t believe excess rainfall will be a major issue this year: “It might be in certain isolated areas but, for the most part, people were happy to see the moisture.”

Manitoba

Manitoba seems to have had the best seeding weather of the three provinces. Planting operations there are ahead of normal.

“Overall, most guys are reporting seeding conditions have been great,” says the province’s cereals specialist Pam de Rocquigny. “Soil moisture conditions are adequate for establishment and emergence. One comment I’ve been hearing is producers have been able to seed corner to corner on most of their fields.”

An early start and good stand establishment are among the factors that would bode well for maximizing yield potential later on in the year, she adds.

Farmers in much of the province have been able to clean their fields with a pre-seed burn off. Those in areas that have experienced heavier precipitation were obviously stymied, but de Rocquigny feels it’s still early enough in the year where if farmers will still be able to make pre-seed applications if they deem it necessary.

Still, like any year, farmers need to be wary. Diamondback moths have been spotted in Manitoba too, although the province’s diamondback moth trap numbers seem to go up and down, which might be partially related to evening temperatures. Warmer evenings, for instance, increase moth activity, says Manitoba Agriculture’s extension entomologist John Gavloski.

The fact some of the trapped moths have been in good shape has raised the question of whether they migrated from southern states or over wintered.

“There is the possibility that some may have survived the winter, although confirming that this is what happened is difficult,” says Gavloski.

Disease issues are also in the background. Significant levels of ergot last year and the fact it survives a year in the soil gives the potential for more headaches this year with the disease.

“There’s likely a lot of ergot out in the soil right now because of the high levels last year, but whether it’s going to be a problem depends — anything that lengthens the flowering periods, like cloudy conditions, is when we see more ergot,” notes Manitoba Agriculture plant pathologist Holly Derksen.

Fusarium was a non-issue last year given dryness during the flowering period, but if Manitoba experiences a more typical year — especially more moisture at the early flowering stage of cereals — there will definitely be potential for it, Derksen says.

Farmers may also need to keep their eyes peeled for clubroot. Two soil samples from 2011 came back positive for clubroot DNA, although no symptoms in fields or in greenhouse tests have been detected. Right now, the province is just trying to raise awareness.

“We’re not immune to this disease. Hopefully we can detect at these low levels and put the measures in place. Not only that, but learn from Alberta as far as management techniques go, so we’re able to control this disease.”

Sanitation is the number one recommendation, namely farmers making sure they do their best not to transfer soil from one field to another. ATV riders should pressure wash their machines before coming onto land, and custom applicators avoid going into fields when conditions are wet. †

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