It was April 2011 when I got a call from Joe, a dairy farmer near Millet, Alta., who grows 900 acres of barley silage and barley for milling in a rotation with canola. Joe’s frustration reverberated down the line. Continuously poor yields were affecting the purchase value of the land, and before purchasing it he wanted to know if there was a solution to the yield problems he was experiencing.
I asked him to describe the problems further. “I’ve got poor emergence and there’s a wavy-looking top to the stand,” he said. “We are deciding whether or not to buy the quarter, but we want to be sure that we can improve the yields, to make it worth it.”
“I’ll come out and take a look,” I said.
When I reached Joe’s field, I saw that it had been recently worked and the soil was dark grey to black in colour. It had a clay loam texture and a fairly mellow structure.
I noticed that there were multiple gas wells on the land, so I thought it may be a reclamation issue. But we ruled that out as the yields, Joe said, seemed to be poor continuously across the field.
The next consideration was disease — Joe’s crop was in its third year of barley. Disease pressure could be hurting the yield. But we didn’t see any obvious visual signs of disease pressure — perhaps enough to justify one pass of fungicide, but not enough to explain the problem.
Next, we considered the seed itself. I ran a germination test on the barley seed, but sure enough it was 95 per cent, so we ruled that out as well.
But I had one more test up my sleeve — a soil test. “Joe, I think I know what’s eroding your yields,” I said.
Why is Joe’s field yielding so poorly? Send your diagnosis to Grainews, Box 9800, Winnipeg, Man., R3C 3K7; email [email protected] or fax 204-944-5416 c/o Crop Advisor’s Casebook. Best suggestions will be pooled and one winner will be drawn for a chance to win a Grainews cap and a one-year subscription to the magazine. The best answer, along with the reasoning which solved the mystery, will appear in the next Crop Advisor’s Solution File. †