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Zero To “Great” Harvest Forecasts

Farmers across Western Canada all have different stories to tell for the midsummer Farmer Panel as they talk about plans for harvest and crop storage this fall.

All use “wet” to describe the situation at seeding, but details of their current circumstances go from one extreme to the other.

An Alberta farmer was looking at a “very good” crop in early to mid-July, a Manitoba farmer was anticipating perhaps half his normal yield, and comments from two Saskatchewan farmers ranged from about average to absolutely nothing.

Here is what farmers had to say about their fall harvest outlook:

DANIEL VAN DE VELDE MARIAPOLIS, MAN.

Adequate crop storage isn’t expected to be an issue for Daniel Van De Velde of Mariapolis, Man., this fall. While he got everything seeded one way or another — albeit late — he expects yield of wheat and canola to be about half of normal this year.

Van De Velde, who along with his family crops about 4,000 acres in total on two farms in south-central Manitoba says it was a struggle to get crops seeded over a long, wet seeding season.

They got all the wheat seeded, but about 250 acres of that at his dad’s farm near Dunrae drowned out after about three inches of rain fell after seeding. At Daniel’s farm at Mariapolis he hired a TerraGator to float on 500 acres of canola and an airplane to fly seed on another 500 acres. Some of it was harrowed after seeding and some was not. At the Dunrae farm 1,000 acres of canola was seeded by plane.

“It is surprising how well the canola is coming,” says Van De Velde. “Some of it we were able to harrow after seeding and some of it we couldn’t. Even the seed that was just flown on and left is coming along quite well. We’re actually trying to get some fertilizer floated on right now (early July).”

He says even seed that fell into standing water managed to germinate and take root. “It looks like a reasonably good stand has survived,” he says.

But it took until mid-June to finish seeding, so he’s looking for good weather conditions between now and late fall so the crop can mature for harvest. Even if all goes well, however, he expects yields will be about half of normal.

In a “normal” year they have adequate bin storage, and have added some new 11,000 and 13,000 bushel bins in recent years. And if needed they have some larger machinery sheds that can be used when yields are at or above normal.

KRIS MAYERLE TISDALE, SASK.

Kris Mayerle has gone through a range of thoughts about the 2011 crop between April and July. In late April it was so wet he thought it might be a repeat of 2010 when only about half of the nearly 20,000 acres he crops with family members got seeded.

Surprisingly, conditions improved considerably to allow seeding to begin in early May and finish before the end of the month. For a few days, after crops germinated there was potential, he thought, for even a bumper yield because moisture conditions were so good.

But then two weeks of rain — about four inches — in the last part of June has drowned out 10 to 20 per cent of canola acres, and put stress on crop that has survived (root rot in peas, some wheat looking yellow), so he has revised his estimate to “perhaps an average yield”.

It is still a better situation than last year, says Mayerle, but a lot of his crop land is at the saturation point. “Even a half inch of rain now and we have standing water in the fields,” he says.

So with a well established storage system he doesn’t expect space to be an issue this fall. He has two grain dryers that can be used as needed, and overall between their own and on rented farms they have between 600,000 and 700,000 bushels of permanent storage, and three years ago he bought a grain bagging system, so that is also available if needed.

“Some crops are stressed by all this moisture, but I see a wide range of conditions out there,” he says. “Some crops are looking pretty good and others aren’t. And crop stage is all over the board too.”

Although wheat was seeded early, some is barely at the flag leaf stage, while other fields are fully headed. Some of the canola is in 40 per cent bloom, while other fields probably won’t even be at the bolting stage for another week. Peas were just starting to bloom in early July, and oats are at the flag leaf stage.

“At this point it looks like some of our crop will be normal and we’ll start combining in mid to late August and with other crops it is going to be pretty late.”

JOSH FANKHAUSER CLARESHOLM, ALTA.

Josh Fankhauser, didn’t actually use the word “bumper” in his harvest forecast, but with “very good” conditions as of early July, the southern Alberta farmer expects he will be putting the grain bagging system he bought last year to good use this fall.

Fankhauser, who crops about 7,000 acres at Claresholm, northwest of Lethbridge says seeding conditions were wet. He was unable to seed about 600 acres and another 300 acres of low spots and potholes have drowned out since the crop was seeded. As conditions dry out he plans to seed cover crops on the unseeded land.

“There is the odd bad spot out there, but overall our crops are looking pretty good,” he says. “And with good moisture the yield potential is very good, as well.”

Fankhauser bought the Albertamade Renn 12-foot grain bagging system last year. “We put about 250,000 bushels of canola, wheat and peas in bags last year,” he says. “Any new system has a few hiccups, but over all it worked very well.

He says the bags protected crop quality, and he is impressed with the unloading system, which can fill a Super B truck in less than 20 minutes.

The grain bagger, for the most part, replaces older, smaller permanent storage bins. “We had a bunch of older 5,000 bushel bins that needed to be replaced and we compared the cost of doing that with buying a grain bagging system.”

Fankhauser has a newer 24,000 bushel bin and two 10,000 bushel steel bins, which they’ll use, but everything else will go in the bags. Each bag will hold up to 30,000 bushels, but he says to minimize risk of spoilage and convenience he only plans to put about 10,000 to 15,000 bushels in each bag this year.

“That was part of the learning process,” says Fankhauser. “The bagging system worked fine and we didn’t have any issue with spoilage until we opened a bag. But then if you only took out a portion of a bag, and then left the bag open for a while until next delivery, there could be some spoilage near the opening.”

This fall he plans to only put 10,000 to 15,000 bushels in each bag, so when he makes a delivery he empties a bag completely. He estimates the cost of bagging and extraction system at 10 to 12 cents per bushel.

MARCEL VAN STAVEREN GRIFFIN, SASK.

Despite the fact he has 13,000 acres unseeded, and much of that just sitting with standing water on fields, Marcel Van Staveren can still joke that on the upside he has lots of bin space available this year, if anyone wants to rent it. He has plenty of storage capacity, but other than 500 acres he did get seeded, and a slim chance of harvesting some volunteer canola, he has nothing to put in those bins.

Van Staveren, who farms at Griffin just east of Weyburn in southeast Saskatchewan, says all he can do now is manage his land in hopes he can plant a crop next year.

“Right now it is all about 2012,” he says. “Our plan is to keep as much green cover as possible on fields as long as we can, in hopes of drawing that water table down, so we will be able to plant next year.”

All that is growing this year is volunteer cereals and a lot of volunteer canola. With 40 per cent of his land, in some areas, with standing water (and some neighbors with 100 per cent) he says he can’t even get on fields to spray weeds or volunteers.

“We’ll keep that green cover on there as long as possible and then hopefully by the end of July be able to work it in for green manure,” he says. He is looking at the possibility of harvesting some of the volunteer hybrid canola, but if it only produces 10 bushels per acre, it may not be worth the effort.

Van Staveren, who has run a one-pass, direct seeding operation since 1993 says he also plans to make a couple tillage passes with a disc, this summer as well, to help dry out the soil.

“I don’t like to, but we have to do whatever we can to help dry out those fields, and the green cover is the first step, and then tillage is next,” he says. The local Viterra farm centre has also agreed to delay delivery of anhydrous ammonia he had booked for this past spring, for use this coming fall. While the anhydrous usually goes on at seeding, he plans to deep band it this fall, which again should help speed up seeding operations next spring.

Van Staveren didn’t think it likely there could be crop failures two years in a row, and although he was lucky to get everything seeded in 2010, some of his neighbors didn’t and they are now coping with the second successive year of little or no crop.

He remembers a wet spring in 1999 when he only got about 60 per cent of his land seeded, and then in 2004 a frost in mid- August produced “the worst loss we have experienced.”

“It looks to me like we have to plan and manage for a crop failure every five or six years,” he says. “With the AgriStability Program and crop insurance we will survive, but it just places us in a holding pattern, we won’t be able to make any strides in our farming business. It just means that 12 months from now we will be in the same position we are in today.”

LeeHartisafieldeditorforGrainewsat Calgary.Contacthimat403-592-1964orby emailat [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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