There’s still room for tweaking, but producers have most plans made for what they’ll grow in 2010

With a somewhat flat commodities’ market, producers for this Farmers’ Panel say they have pretty well made up their minds on what to grow in 2010 and are sticking fairly close to tried and true rotations.

There don’t appear to be any run-away commodity prices that will shift a large number of acres one way or another. Lentils, in the 20 to 30 cent per pound range, are fairly strong, but as Charlie Pearson, a long-time market analyst with Alberta Agriculture points out, producers have to keep in mind a large increase in lentil acres will increase production, and soon bring prices down.

Pearson says the outlook is fairly good for canola, grains, and pulse crops. No crazy prices. Production may be up, but so is world demand, so that should stabilize prices. The big caveat, as always, he points out depends on how Mother Nature decides to deal the deck, not only in Canada and North America, but around the world.

Some producers interviewed have held off on pricing crops, waiting for a better price opportunity they can lock into. Pearson understands their thinking, but says on average it usually makes sense to use the range of forward pricing tools available from grain companies and the Canadian Wheat Board to lock in a price on at least 25 per cent of the crop, which will provide some cash flow assurance this fall.

Here is how this issue’s Farmers’ Panel views seeding intentions for 2010:

DEVAN PUNTER EATONIA, SASK.

Devan Punter is sticking with a pretty standard rotation on his southwest Saskatchewan farm.

Punter, who crops about 3,000 acres near Eatonia, southwest of Kindersley, says he has followed the same grain and oilseed rotation for the past several years.

“I don’t have any real changes planned,” he says. “I may grow a little less durum this year, but otherwise no big change from what we have done the last few years.”

Along with durum, Punter grows red lentils, mustard and canary seed.

While, in a late March interview, he said field conditions were dry enough that he could probably be out then, he will wait until the third week of April before beginning seeding operations.

ROLF PENNER MORRIS, MANITOBA

Rolf Penner ‘thinks’ he has all is plans made for the 2010 seeding season, but he may not know for sure until he hits the field with the air seeder.

Penner crops about 1,900 acres of grains and oilseeds and produces hogs near Morris in southeast Manitoba. He applies all fertilizer at time of seeding, “and among other things that gives me the option to change my seeding plans, if I need to, at the last minute,” he says.

The one wild card this year, and it was a similar situation with winter wheat last year, is a field of perennial rye grass. That is turf-type grass he underseeded to a cereal crop in the spring of 2009. If it is a good stand, that survives the winter, he’ll leave it, and if it sustains a lot of winter kill, then he’ll reseed it to canola this spring.

“Trouble is I probably can’t tell how well it did until the second week of May,” says Penner. “So it may be a last minute call. It keeps things interesting because all of a sudden I may have a whole lot more acres to seed than I planned.” Last year a field or winter wheat killed out and he had to reseed it at the last minute. If he does have to reseed the rye grass, he’ll go to a Roundup Ready canola to help control any of the grass that does survive.

For cereal crops in 2010, Penner will be seeding a fairly even split between hard red spring wheat and oats. And with oilseeds he’ll have a 50/50 split between canola and soybeans.

Oats have penciled out quite well in the past. Although the price isn’t great early in 2010, he’s hoping there may be a rally later in the year. “I am growing them somewhat on spec,” he says. “The price at seeding wasn’t great last year and I went heavier to wheat, and then the price of oats improved. So I am hoping it will be similar this year.”

While at one time he was tempted to drop conventional soybeans out of rotation completely, he says the newer shorter season, Roundup Ready varieties, actually have the crop running ‘neck and neck’ with canola profitability on his farm.

“I think soybeans are a real coin toss with canola,” he says.

“I tell the canola seed guys the competition now isn’t another canola variety, it is soybeans.” Penner has been growing soybeans on and off for the past 10 years and has made a point of keeping them in rotation for the past five years.

“With the flat market right now I haven’t pre-priced hardly anything for fall delivery,” says Penner. “I don’t think I have ever felt more naked than I do right now, because there aren’t any real opportunities. Hopefully that will change as we head into spring. I like a market with a little more volatility. Sure, prices can go down, but when they are up at least you have something to go for.”

STEWART COLLIN FOREMOST, ALTA.

To reduce the risk of crop damage from wheat stem sawfly damage, Stewart Collin will switch part of his rotation over to yellow mustard for 2010. He is keeping some durum wheat in rotation, but is growing more of other crops that aren’t at risk to the pest.

Collin, who farms near Foremost in southeast Alberta, crops about 1,760 acres in what he describes as the Sabbath Rest rotation, on his Sabbath Rest Farms –that is six years of cropping and one year of fallow.

“I don’t see any other winners out there from a cropping standpoint, and I don’t want to get on the lentil bandwagon,” says Collin. “So the only change I’ve made is to include yellow mustard in rotation to get away from the risk of wheat stem sawfly damage.”

Collin, who grew AC Navigator, a high-yielding semi-dwarf, amber durum under contract in 2009, will grow more of the crop, under an identity preserved contract in 2010.

His rotation will include a half section of winter wheat, a half section of peas, a half section of yellow mustard under contract, and three quarters of durum.

“We only have 11 quarters and we’re raising five children, so we have to be as efficient as possible,” he says. “Most years we only get about 10 inches of rain so there are only certain crops we grow reliably. Lentil prices are strong right now, and I could grow them, but I would probably be faced with some high bills for control of ascochyta, so I don’t know if I would be any further ahead. I think it is best to stick with the crops you know you can grow.”

Collin says with average to good moisture in his area, he expects to begin seeding shortly after Easter.

ED SCHAFER MAKWA, SASK.

Ed Schafer has a pretty good idea of what he’ll be growing in 2010, he’s just not sure where it will end up on his northwest Saskatchewan farm.

Schafer, who has a mixed farming operation that includes about 5,000 acres of crops along with a 200 head cow/calf operation and grass cattle, says he knows the rotation will include canola, Canada Prairie Spring wheat, hard red spring wheat, barley and peas.

“The cereal acres are set, but exactly where it gets seeded will depend on what field is ready to go first,” he says. “We’ve been pushing canola acres fairly hard the last few years, so we want to get back to a rotation that includes more grain.”

Schafer farms near Makwa, which is about 35 miles west of Meadow Lake. It is a good area for growing canola, but he says it might hold some surprises for growing crops generally considered more suitable for southern regions.

With improved lentil varieties coming along, he’d like to try that pulse crop one day. “Some people say lentils won’t grow here, but they also said corn wouldn’t grow and we’ve had good luck with corn for four years, so lentils might be something to investigate down the road.”

While canola is still the main cash crop, the biggest changes to Schafer’s rotation this year will be CPS wheat for the first time, fewer acres of hard red spring, and some malt barley in rotation instead of all feed barley. They’ll still keep a half section of feed barley, but after reasonable success with malt barley in 2009, he’ll seed more of it in 2010.

“Feed barley is a good crop, but it comes down to the economics,” he says. “If you can’t make money at it, why grow it?”

He also has the option to include oats in rotation too. He considers oats the “swing acres”. As he gets closer to seeding, which usually begins May 1, and if markets have improved, he may also include some oats in rotation as well.

“Usually by now we have quite a bit of our crop hedged but not this year,” he says. “ We have most of our canola pre-priced, but haven’t done anything with the other crops mostly because we haven’t seen any really attractive prices. The market is a little different. Hopefully we will see pricing opportunities as we get closer to spring.”

STEPHEN PETLUK NAMPA, ALTA.

Dry growing conditions are having the most influence on Peace River region farmer Stephen Petluk’s 2010 cropping decisions.

While his rotation usually includes peas, wheat and canola, he’s going much heavier to peas this year because they make good use of available moisture and are a lower input crop.

He will quadruple his pea acres, going from 1,000 to 4,000 acres in 2010, and also seed about 2,000 acres of hard red spring wheat, and 2,000 acres of Roundup Ready canola.

“We were dry last year, and we’ve only had eight inches of snow this winter,” says Petluk, who farms near Nampa, which is just southeast of the town of Peace River. “It has been so dry there’s not even any frost in the ground. Based on average yields and input costs, it works out that peas will provide the best return, and they’ll also provide a benefit to crops the following year.”

Petluk plans for this to be a onetime switch, and hopefully with improved moisture he can get back to his regular rotation in 2011.

He’ll be growing yellow peas in 2010 as there appears to be higher demand for that type, and they are easier to market right off the combine. With canola he’ll be growing DeKalb, Brett Young and Proven seed varieties. He grows wheat only for rotation, but finds the hard red spring varieties better able to handle extremes of too much or too little moisture better than Canada Prairie Spring varieties.

He doesn’t grow any feed grains because he finds the economics just aren’t there.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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