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Wheat &Chaff – for Feb. 14, 2011

HOW’S THE WEATHER?

Someone once told me that talking about the weather means you have nothing else to really talk about. That person was clearly not involved in agriculture. Even in an average year, there’s no greater variable to crop production than the weather. In a year with conditions far outside “normal” ranges, there is no more fascinating topic, other than maybe the closely related, “How will this affect crop prices?”

When I set out to put this issue together, I knew I wanted to include a few articles on managing wet conditions. It turns out that several of my writers were thinking along the same lines. It seems everyone has moisture on their minds these days.

This same sentiment was proven in Saskatoon last month at Crop Production Week. Drew Lerner, who runs World Weather Inc. out of Kansas City, attracted a packed house for a two-hour discussion on what 2011’s spring and summer weather is likely to look like. Weather forecasting, of course, is prediction, not fact, but Lerner’s prediction is for another wet year. The only silver lining is that it won’t be as wet or as cold, for the most part, as in 2010. That’s small comfort for those with already-saturated soils, but we’ll take are good news when we can.

Oh, and I should apologize in advance for those with too-little moisture. I’m glad to hear the Peace region of Alberta has received some snow cover; I hope spring brings you timely rains. And don’t worry, in an upcoming issue of this magazine we’ll be talking about water-conserving cropping strategies, too. Because, and don’t hate me for saying this, but on average Prairie farmers need to worry more about not enough water versus too much (just not this year).

CROP SELECTION AND RUTS

Wet and saturated soils will impact each and every crop production decision you make this spring and potentially into harvest, depending on how accurate Drew Lerner is. From which crop you put on which field, to fertilizer rates, seed treatments and fungicide applications, farming in a very wet year isn’t business as usual.

In this issue, I recommend reading Les Henry’s column first (page 18). Each year, Les does his own legwork and comes up with a Prairie-wide soil-moisture map as of freeze-up (he uses November 1 as his deadline). Les has been doing this for quite some time, as I understand it. Did you know that Manitoba and Saskatchewan no longer compile these maps? Alberta’s government still does, but for the other two, you only have Les to thank — or not, in this case. That’s because Les had to break out an entire new pencil crayon to make the map. For the first time ever, he created a fifth category: “Very Wet.”

From Les’s feel-good column, move to Kevin Elmy’s cover story (if you haven’t done so already), then I recommend the short right up on the opposite page regarding corn yield losses to growing in ruts in a Minnesota study. It’s astounding. Then it’s off to Andrea Hilderman’s story on WeatherFarm’s upgrades for the 2011 season (page 7). Growing degree days and their impact on insect populations as well as disease forecasting models will be essential planning tools this year. The service is free (funded by farmers through the CWB), so use it.

After that, you may want to check out the story I wrote on choosing crops for wet soils. This story stems from a presentation that Dr. Martin Entz at the University of Manitoba gave at Crop Week last month. Many of you aren’t likely to jump at the chance to include an exotic cover crop, however there are many tried and true western Canadian crops that tolerate wet feet or that will use up water deep in the soil profile.

Speaking of ruts, do me a favour when you read that article — keep an open mind. Kevin Elmy in his cover story mentions using sunflowers or alfalfa in rotation as a means for improving drainage and using up water. When the rubber hits the soil, it’s more important to keep fields growing productively than to chemfallow. That might mean stepping outside your comfort zone and trying something new or chatting with a neighbour about working out some haying or grazing agreement.

To paraphrase Entz, doing what you always do works fine in average conditions, but once those conditions change, you’ve got to adapt right along with it. For example, seeding a cover crop in June and winter wheat into it in the late summer is not that crazy of an idea. It just might be the year to try it out.

A NEW SHOP SERIES

This issue ofGrainewsfeatures one of seven in a series of articles that our illustrious machinery editor Scott Garvey put together on using an oxyacetylene torch (see page 24). To be honest, until I edited these articles, I couldn’t even spell oxyacetylene. Now, I anticipate that by the time this series is through, I’ll know more about them than I’ll likely ever need. I hope you find the series helpful. Remember: Scott loves phone calls and emails (he’s bored now that the cows are gone), so be sure to call him up and share your latest and greatest on-farm manufactured product or question. He’s always looking for something to do. His email is scott. [email protected]

AGVOCACY

I finally caved in and gave Lee Hart some room for another one of his Hart Attacks columns. This round he’s decided to stir the pot just a bit by encouraging all farmers to keep an eye on the increasing demands of traceability and documentation.

While he doesn’t call it this, the term I run into on Twitter and other social media is “agvocacy” — advocating for agriculture. It’s not enough anymore to simply take care of the land, dispose of plastic and pesticides properly and handle cattle in an stress-free environment. Increasingly, farmers are asked to prove it. I’m not saying it’s fair, but perception is reality and there are those out on the landscape who feel that farmers aren’t doing a very good job. In the absence of any retort, these are the only voices many consumers — your customers — hear. What’s to be done about it? Farmers need to get involved in agvocacy to tell your side of the story, and, like it or not, adopting more traceability measures should be anticipated in the coming years.

Oh, and if you are so inclined, I am on Twitter, as is field editor Lee Hart. I’m @GrainewsGal and Lee is @hartattacks. Follow us, if you’d like. We’ll try and keep the tweets as helpful as we can, though too often I find I just complain about the weather.

Lyndsey

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