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Farmers tweak rotations to reflect markets

Farmer panel: Farmers contacted for the February Farmer Panel are making 
changes to get the most from a falling market in 2014

While the high rolling wheat, barley and canola prices of the past couple years are into a market slump in 2014, that doesn’t mean western Canadian farmers are making major changes to their cropping plans this coming year.

Some adjustments, yes, as they consider crops with lower inputs, or bring back specialty crops they haven’t grown for a few years. Some say after pushing rotations hard for a few seasons, the market slowdown is giving them a chance to get proper or at least better rotations back on track.

For some, wheat in the $5.50 to $6 bushel range doesn’t pencil out well at all. For others, canola in $9.50 to $10.50 bushel price range still offers an acceptable, albeit not exceptional, return.

Here are what farmers contacted for the February Farmers’ Panel had to say about their cropping plans for 2014:

Dustin Williams, Souris, Man.

Realizing it will take a while for excess wheat and canola supplies to work through the system, Dustin Williams says he will be cutting back on both wheat and canola acres in 2014.

Williams, who farms at Souris, Manitoba says with higher prices he has been pushing canola rotations in the last couple of years. “We have been bumping the acres to pay the bills, but I think we’re also seeing a bit more disease pressure out there, so cutting back a bit may be a good thing,” he says. “We can work toward a more realistic rotation.”

As he scales back on wheat and canola, Williams says he plans to bring sunflowers back into his rotation, and grow more oats and flax. “Unfortunately as wheat and canola have fallen off, many of the other commodities have too,” he says. “While prices are dropping, canola still pencils out as having one of the better returns, but we will cut back just to take some of the risk off the table.”

Fred Greig, Reston, Man.

As a pedigreed seed producer Fred Greig expects some movement away from wheat and canola in 2014.

“I thought it was shaping up to be a wheat, canola and soybean year, but the recent drop in markets has changed things,” says Greig of Avondale Seed Farm at Reston in southwest Manitoba. “Boy, what a difference six months can make.”

He says farmers are starting to show more interest in flax and peas “and other crops that are a little cheaper to grow. I think people will be spreading out their choices a bit more this coming year in case a market does bounce up they will be able to grab the opportunity.”

He says interest in barley has been very quiet, which may mean some farmers will be growing more oats than barley. On his own farm he keeps about the same rotation with cereals, oilseeds and pulse crops, but may move acres around in each class — seed more flax than canola, for example — if the market looks favourable.

Rick Procyk, Fillmore, Sask.

Rick Procyk hasn’t made final decisions yet on the 2014 crop, but he expects he will stick pretty close to his usual four-year rotation with a few adjustments.

Procyk, who produces grains, oilseeds and pulses on his farm near Fillmore, south of Regina says he expects to have some increase in soybean acres, keep lentils about the same, keep some wheat in the mix just for rotation purposes, grow a few more acres of flax and likely cut back on canola.

“Some years we grow malt barley and I haven’t decided what to do with that yet, depending on prices this year,” he says. “So I am not planning any big changes — more of the same, with a few adjustments.”

With reasonable moisture last fall, and good snow cover this winter he expects good conditions at least to get the crop seeded but in his experience, “it is hard to make or lose any crop at this time of year.”

Gerrid Gust, Davidson, Sask.

Aside from the winter wheat that is already in the ground, Gerrid Gust says the rest of his seeded acres can swing 10 to 15 per cent either way as they approach seeding.

Gust, who farms with family members at Davidson in central Saskatchewan, says they aren’t planning any major changes to their cropping plans this coming year.

“We’re not really in the dire straights like we were two or three years ago where we were growing some crops back to back,” says Gust. “We’re using some better agronomy with rotation.”

He says the canola, wheat and lentil acres are adjusted a bit each year depending on markets and growing conditions “but we don’t try to get too creative and follow a pretty standard rotation,” he says.

Although he’s not crazy about the idea, he will be growing some flax in 2014. “I’ve been dead set against it, but it turned out to be very profitable when we were making our plans so we will be growing some of that,” he says. “We were able to lock in a decent price with a decent margin.”

He’s not planning to grow any barley, and with the wheat he’ll have to decide what type to see. Soft white wheat has been a good crop, but he already has some carryover in the bin. “I’m not sure if I will be growing more and then just hold it until the price improves,” says Gust. “Or maybe we’ll grow some durum and perhaps store it until the market improves. These are some of the details about rotation we still have to make.”

Ed Schmidt, Manning, Alta.

With the fertilizer in the ground last fall, Ed Schmidt says he is sticking with his usual crop mix and rotation for 2014.

Schmidt, who farms with his wife Linda near Manning in the Alberta Peace River Region, says he plans to seed canola, barley, peas and wheat this coming year. They did clear more land so will be seeding a few more acres.

“The fertilizer is on so everything is planned,” he says. “We were dry again last year, but have lots of snow right now. We should be good to get the crop seeded, but hope we get some rain afterwards.”

Jody Klassen, Mayerthorpe, Alta.

Last year’s big canola crop is forcing Jody Klassen to grow more wheat in 2014, although he isn’t really keen on the idea.

Klassen, who farms at Mayerthorpe, north of Edmonton, says he usually pushes his canola acres, simply because canola has been the most profitable, but he draws the line at growing back-to-back crops.

“We maxed out our canola rotation last year, so will be growing more wheat this year, even though the market is telling us we shouldn’t,” says Klassen. “Canola is usually my most profitable crop and that is usually followed by peas.”

“I will be growing as many acres of canola this year as I can, because even with the lower prices it still shapes up as a profitable choice. At these wheat prices I don’t think I can make money, but I will keep it in there for rotational reasons.”

Klassen says about 60 per cent of his acres will be seeded to wheat in 2014, another 13 per cent in peas and about 27 per cent in canola. Last year it was just about the reverse with 60 per cent canola, 20 per cent peas and actually he grew 20 per cent of the farm in barley. “Usually we don’t grow barley unless we are pushed for time,” he says. “We were planning to grow wheat last year, but then we got rain when we were about two-thirds the way through seeding. By the time we could get back on the fields it was early June so we harrowed in the rest of it with barley.”

On the wheat side this year, he’ll be growing two-thirds hard red spring and then he plans to try the new AC Conquer wheat, a midge-tolerant CPS variety. “It is a little longer-season variety for our area, but I just want to give it a try,” says Klassen.

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

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

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