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Wheat &Chaff – for Feb. 28, 2011

THE WEEK THAT WAS

It may seem an unlikely time of year to be thinking about all things new and exciting, but for agriculture, February offers us a first glimpse at new crop varieties and often new pesticides and programs. As I was putting together this issue, those were the kinds of new things I thought I’d be chatting about here.

And while there are certainly a long list of new or improved herbicides, nozzles and products offered up in this issue ofGrainews,it was all the other news crossing my desk that caught my attention. In one week, the Canadian Wheat Board announced it had bought two lake vessels, the government rolled out a two per cent renewable fuel mandate, the next-generation PCVTs were announced, an MP introduced an opt-out bill for farmers in the designated area and a bill that would require market acceptance before a new genetically modified trait could be registered was shot down. This was all in the course of a week.

For someone in farm media, it makes for one very busy week. For farmers, it makes for some very interesting reading, I would think.

NEW PRODUCTS

Before I dive head first into policy and politics (they are not one and the same), let’s take a look at some of the new stuff rolling out this spring.

There are, of course, a slew of new herbicide options for 2011. No, there aren’t any amazing new wonder-actives available, but chemical companies have taken the issue of herbicide-resistance management to heart and are now offering several dual-action options. A recent study out of the University of Saskatchewan suggests that tank mixing two actives is more effective at reducing resistance than rotating modes of action. With this year’s offerings, the tank-mix work is done for you.

There are also a few label expansions to take note of. Find the complete list on page 6.

New is not limited to herbicides, of course. Gerald Pilger lists in our cover story new options for nozzles, a rather important — and relatively inexpensive — choice for the sprayer. If you want those herbicides to work their best and stay where you intend to put them, read this story to help you make that choice. It’s perhaps more important than you think.

AND NOW FOR SOMETHING COMPLETELY DIFFERENT

From nozzles and herbicides, we move into the more unique side of new products. Unless you’ve been living under a rock (or just hibernating), you’ve likely heard about the next generation in crop production and crop protection. First, on the protection side. If you live in southern Manitoba, you’ve likely already heard of Contans. This next-gen biofungicide is actually a fungus that feeds on the resting/ overwintering form of sclerotinia. It’ll take some getting used to, as handling of the product is a bit finicky and the product is applied long before a susceptible crop (by as much as two years), however it does show promise in doing something traditional fungicides do not — it sanitizes fields. For farmers with several sclerotinia-susceptible crops in rotation, use of Contans might be key to maintaing some of these options in the long term. Read more on page 14.

Then there is the next stage of crop production products — the soil amendments, enzymes and newgen fertility products. Now, I’m not saying these are brand new, but farmers looking to take crop production one step further are keen to try new products that may, or may not, increase yield. The tough part about covering new products is that there often isn’t independent, third-party data to present and so you’re left with having to wade through the marketing, take a leap of faith and try it on your own farm. For more on a few of these products, check out page 8.

The exception may be trials done at the Indian Head Agricultural Research Foundation (IHARF) and other Agri-ARM sites across Saskatchewan (Manitoba and Alberta have similar organizations). 2010 marked the beginning of Yield-busters trials — a farming spin on the popular “Mythbusters” TV show — where the research farm took requests on what new or newly registered products to investigate. Chris Holzapfel heads up research at IHARF, and he’s pleased with how the first year turned out. In one trial, a fungicide application in flax seemed to offer more than a three-to-one return, but the other study, a trial of micro-nutrient seed dressing on several crops seemed to offer no benefit. But that’s exactly why these trials happen, and why they continue for a few years before any solid conclusions can be drawn. Read more on page 10.

CWB BUYS SHIPS

Do you feel a bit more drawn to the sea these days? Perhaps you’ve been feeling the overwhelming urge to set sail and adopt a parrot? No one would blame you if you did, as the CWB plans to make all farmers in the designated area shipowners by 2013. (See item on opposite page).

I’m sure you’ve heard of this by now, but I thought I might throw my two cents in on this (and that’s all it’s worth, trust me). First off, I think the decidedly pro-and anti-board folks need to step up their game. For those of us in the media that sit back and take this stuff in, the arguments flying back and forth have become exceedingly repetitive. I can almost guess what each group is going to say before they say it. That’s not dialogue, that’s just plain stubbornness. I’d like to see that change, but I’m not holding my breath.

But back to the matter at hand — the CWB buying ships. As far as I can tell, the CWB is acting within the confines of the act that governs it, the business case seems sound and, if you’ve got questions that need answering, its many spokespeople are more than happy to field your calls. Where I think the board may have tripped up is on the discussion side of this. There was an election not long ago and this issue never came up. I’m not saying that details of a deal like this need to always be made public, however the sorry state of the laker fleet has, at best, been mentioned in passing. I’m sure there are many farmers out there who were more than a little surprised by this move. And some people don’t like surprises.

All of that said, how many of you actually spoke with those running for director in your area? How many of you actually voted? It’s my understanding that very few farmers on the voters, list seek out and question candidates, even fewer get out and vote. Perhaps the dialogue needs to start there.

Cue letter writing… now! (And for those web-savvy readers, there’s a decent Q and A on the topic at: www.cwb.ca/public/en/hot/lakers).

BIODIESEL BLEND

From ships, we move to renewable fuel mandates. On the surface, this is good news for Canadian farmers and canola growers. But things are never that simple. A two per cent mandated renewable fuel component (see opposite page for details) of all diesel sold in Canada is a good thing for sustainability, for engines and for canola producers, right? Well, except that Canada sure isn’t ready to produce the 300 million to 350 million litres of biodiesel necessary to meet this mandate in Western Canada alone.

I spoke with Joe Holash, president and CEO of Milligan Biotech, a biodiesel manufacturer at Foam Lake, Sask. While Holash says the mandate is a step in the right direction, he says that significant investment in current or proposed plants is necessary in order to avoid simply importing American soy-and canola-based product, which is what we’ll be doing for quite some time.

There are a few operating biodiesel plants in Western Canada, including Milligan, but the current production is really a tiny drop in the bucket of what’s needed to fulfil even existing provincial mandates. There are more planned or proposed plants, but not all will get going, and expansion of existing plants takes time and money. In the meantime, highly subsidized U.S. biodiesel will be trucked in to meet the mandate. Some of that biodiesel comes from food-grade canola, but much comes from soybeans.

What’s to be done? There’s not much Canadians can do to change the American system, but it would be nice to see priority placed on Canadian-sourced biodiesel. That’s something we taxpayers should let our MPs know we value.

MOVING ON TO MARCH

Time flies when you’re having fun, and suddenly, it seems, we’re at the end of February and into pre-seeding season. It’ll be seeding season before we know it. As such, the next three issues ofGrainews are focused on exactly that — crop selection, pre-seeding and seeding considerations.

Until then, keep warm and stay safe.

Lyndsey

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