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Wheat &Chaff – for Jul. 25, 2011


Summer is my chance to get out and actually spend time with the farmers I write for. After we have the discussion about there not being enough jokes in the magazine, we typically head to the field to see how the year is shaping up.

Recently, I spent some time in the southeast corner of Saskatchewan and within a week after that, was up near Saskatoon. The difference really was night and day.

The southeast has little to no crop. At the time I was there, there was standing water in many of the fields and, since then, several weather events have gone through dumping more and more water. One of the issues is that the water really has nowhere to go; it’s not really a part of any river system, it’s simply sitting there waiting to be used or evaporate, because it sure isn’t going to percolate down. There’s just nowhere for it to go.

On the flip side, just south of Saskatoon, I walked in a canola field where the blooms were touching my nose. Now, I’m only 5’2″, so I’m not what you’d consider a tall human, but the farmer I was touring with figured the plants had another four to six inches of reaching to do yet. The leaves were the size of dinner plates and I didn’t see a hint of disease or nutrient deficiency. Now, that was early July and that crop was a long way from the bin (Did I mention it was also irrigated? The area hadn’t received any rainfall for a few weeks, and the difference between irrigated and dryland crops was telling.), but it was likely the nicest canola I’ve walked through. The corn, also irrigated, was well above the knee with wide, dark-green leaves. It looked lovely. The farmer said that seeding conditions were just a bit wet, but that the weather had smartened up into June. Now, he’d almost say they were on the dry side.

What a difference a few hundred kilometres makes, I thought. The farmer near Saskatoon was nearly sheepish in looking at his crop, as he knows of many others struggling with no crop or a struggling stand at best. But, I said, “You’ve had bad years too. Take the good and enjoy it!”


Which brings me to my next point. It never ceases to amaze me at how intent farmers are over every little detail at seeding, at spraying, at harvest, but then, once the bins are full, this dedication to babysitting the crop wanes.

How much grain do you think you lose to spoilage each year? Do you ever tally it up? Most farmers that have lost an entire bin to spoilage are much more diligent in the following years. Now, don’t feel too bad — spoilage in storage is very common and accounts for a huge portion of lost production worldwide. The tough pill to swallow is that much of it is avoidable. Careful and consistent monitoring is key, but there are also tools and gadgets to help you first dry and cool, then monitor your paycheque.

While this issue’s theme is fall weed control and winter crops, there was such an overwhelming focus on grain storage technology at the Western Canada Farm Progress Show that we couldn’t help but include a good portion of the aeration products and monitoring equipment available. Coverage of the show starts on page 32. This is just what’s new, of course, there are temperature gauges, moisture sensors, grain dryers and retrofit aeration with heat setups galore. In our climate, and depending on harvest conditions which, let’s face it, are rarely ideal from one end of the farm to the other, investing in monitoring and storage technology is well worth it.

I’ve also included a story from Ron Settler, the man who will make do with whatever he has, who has taken the time to properly convert an old Quonset into usable, or at least less back-breaking, grain storage. See? It doesn’t always have to be shiny and new to be useful or an improvement. His story is on page 12.


There are a couple of farming practices I ask farmers about whenever I have the chance. One is seeding rates and how they determine them (it’s no secret I’m a big proponent of 1,000 kernel weight and seeding by desired plant density and not bushels per acre); another is soil testing; and the other has been fall weed control.

Based on the biology of perennials and winter annuals, there really are three major weed removal periods: fall, spring and in-crop. As Clark Brenzil, provincial weed specialist with the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture, so eloquently puts it, “Fall is the earliest spring.”

No, you can’t get a jump on spring-germinating weeds in the fall, however there are several weeds you see in the spring that would have been better dealt with in September. Perennials, such as dandelion and Canada thistle, are moving energy into storage in the fall and will unknowingly do the same with herbicides, leading to an effective kill. Winter annuals such as flixweed germinate in the fall and may stay as seedlings or as small rosettes through the winter. At the first warming, these seemingly innocuous tiny plants spring up and set seed, sometimes much faster than you can get out there to kill them. Killing seedlings is always easier than bolting or mature plants.

I often ask if farmers do any fall control because it seems like such an effective control of some growing issues, now that zero till is the norm in many areas. Many want to or plan to, but a long harvest season can leave them pressed for time. A hard frost sooner than expected can knock off perennials before a farmer had a chance to spray, however, as you’ll read in the cover story of this issue, even a heavy frost doesn’t mean you can’t at least get good control of winter annuals.


Speaking of things that can fall by the wayside with a late harvest, this issue’s theme also includes winter crops. In nasty, wet springs like the one many farmers experienced last year and this, having winter wheat or other fall-seeded crops already in the ground does two things: it may provide the only crop in truly bad years, or, at a minimum, it takes some pressure off getting to each field to seed in an already tight seeding window.

Again, I’ll ask farmers why don’t they grow winter wheat. While a few years ago a more common answer was there wasn’t as much money in it as spring wheat, now many farmers see the very real value in spreading out the workload but have been hampered by late harvests. Time, it seems, is rarely on the farmer’s side.

If winter wheat isn’t your cup of tea but you like the idea of a fall-seeded crop, research out of Alberta suggests you may have new, nitrogen-fixing options to choose from. Lee Hart attended a field day early this year to look at plots of winter pea, lentil, canola and more. He’s written up what he saw on page eight — the future for some, but not all, certainly all of these winter crops, looks bright.


Each summer issue ofGrainews, we take a bit of time to look back at the last 18 issues of the magazine and choose a few of our favourites. Starting on page 21, we’ve slotted in a collection of stories that are whatGrainewsis all about — practical, field-ready information for your farm. Did we miss one of your favourites? Throughout the year, if you find a story of particular help or interest, let me know. I’ll add it to the list of favourites for next year.


For some of you, harvest is just around the corner. For others, as one farmer faced with very little crop put it, at least you don’t have to worry about running out of room in your bins. For each of you heading out to the field this fall, be safe out there and here’s hoping the weather co-operates. Lyndsey

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