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Wheat &Chaff – for May. 2, 2011

DOWN TO BUSINESS

By the time you read this, our new prime minister will have been named. While politicians love to put all the emphasis on the election, the real work starts now. Whether the person you voted for won the riding or not, your MP is still your MP, for better or for worse. As farmers and rural citizens, your job now is to get in touch with your MP and make sure that they represent your interests in Ottawa.

What interests are those? Depending on where you live and the services you have, the list varies. When it comes to farming, some will feel more strongly about some things than others (yes, the Canadian Wheat Board and its monopoly falls into this category). In my mind, though, there are several issues facing western Canadian farmers that each and every farmer should talk to their MP about.

In no particular order, they are: support for more research, in particular funding for plant breeding; improved rail service and transport/ logistics in general; dependable and intelligent business risk management programs; and, comprehensive support for young or beginning farmers (the two are not the same).

Sure, there are other things that matter — trade, tracking and traceability, the CWB and so on — but when you look at the list of grievances, it can get overwhelming.

Nothing would make me happier than if each and every farmer, at some point over the next year, chose one concern they had and called their MP about it. MPs from rural areas often represent people from a wide area, but not always all that many people. Farmers should have more access to their MPs than, say, someone in Toronto, given the MP-to-constituent ratio. Why not take advantage of it?

The fact is, there are fewer farmers each year, but roughly the same amount of commerce and production takes place. Each of you, as farmers, becomes more important each year. Perhaps it’s time to remind your MP about that.

SCRATCH IT IN

I ran a story by Scott Garvey not long ago about using a floater or fertilizer spreader to seed crops (March 14 issue, page 20). In early April, I had hopes that maybe the article would be useless to many readers. After all, floating, flying or broadcasting canola or cereals should truly be a last resort. By the middle of April, however, the main bridge in my hometown was closed due to flooding, and the phone was ringing nearly daily with farmers asking for more information about broadcast seeding.

What I found surprising in Scott’s story was the Saskatchewan-based farmer noted that scratching in cereals actually worked quite well. Being from southeast Manitoba, I had really only heard of this being done with canola, and even results with canola were mixed, at best.

The Canola Council of Canada recently released its tips for floating on or broadcasting seed. Not surprisingly, the council encourages farmers to use this as a last resort — waiting until mid-May for fields to dry out and warm up allows ample time for the crop to establish and max out potential. If it’s early May and still wet it’s better to wait and seed with a drill a little later than to float it on early.

Next, and this is good advice whenever seeding into less-than-ideal conditions, bump your seeding rate. The council suggests bumping up the phosphorus rates too, as P is immobile in the soil. By broadcasting seed and phosphorus, you decrease the likelihood of the two of them landing next to each other. I recently spoke with Novozymes, the makers of Jumpstart (a phosphorus “fixing” product), and they have trials that suggest a one-bushel-an-acre advantage when using Jumpstart (versus broadcast-seeded canola with P alone).

The council reminds farmers that a once-over-lightly with tillage might be necessary ahead of seeding in high trash situations. Once seed has been floated on, a light harrowing should increase seed to soil contact and increase the chances of good establishment. Following up with an N and S application can be especially critical depending on what went on in the fall (and how much N is still there). Farmers should also check with crop insurance — a broadcast-seeded field may need an inspection, the council says.

The experts and this editor all agree that scratching it in isn’t ideal. If it’s very late in the year, you have to ask yourself if it’s truly worth the effort. A farmer from Manitoba’s Red River Valley said to me that he had in fact seeded canola via plane one year, but if it didn’t rain shortly thereafter, you were hooped. In my view, if you’re at the point where hiring a plane seems like the smartest option, it probably isn’t.

INSECT MANAGEMENT

Now, let’s leave seeding alone for a bit and move to in-season crop management. The May issue ofGrainewsis the insect issue. My fascination with insects knows few bounds. I also think we’re darn lucky to live in an area that enjoys at least some reprieve from major infestations due to our very harsh winters. There are, however, a few insects that travel up from southern climes, and those hardy ones that overwinter here. Knowing which is which can make a huge difference in when you scout and your management options.

It’s impossible to cover every pest every year, so I’ve tried to highlight a few that may be an issue this year, or those — like midge — that never seem to go away, just get worse or better. Last summer, I heard much chatter and received a few calls about when to spray for midge. I’m not an entomologist, so I encourage you to call one or to speak with your agronomist, but it’s my understanding that midge only pose a threat from head emergence to the beginning of anthesis.

If heads are in full-on anthesis, with the wee yellow anthers sticking out, the riskiest season has passed. Which could be a good thing, if numbers of midge are low, but it could also be a bad thing, in that you may have missed the window for control.

When it comes to midge, early and continual scouting is key. Because the heads are susceptible up to and including anthesis, pest numbers need to be monitored just as the heads start to emerge. That’s when the adult midge lays her eggs on the heads, the larvae hatch and feed off the developing kernel. Once anthesis is well on its way, the damage has been done.

Of particular interest for those in regions with midge pressure nearly annually, several new midge-tolerant varieties are available. Last year was the first for commercial use and the results are promising. Farmers using the varietal blends (90 per cent tolerant variety, 10 per cent susceptible variety) should prepare themselves to see some midge feeding and damage, as the trait works only if the midge ingests some of the developing kernel. The good news is that after some initial feeding, the larvae die off and farmers shouldn’t need to spray, except in extremely high-pressure situations. Read more about one farmer’s experience with the new varieties on page 8.

FUEL PRICES AND PICKUP TRUCKS

I drive a diesel, so usually get a bit of a reprieve at the pump (and it goes much farther, but I’m not trying to rub it in). But recent price run-ups in the price of all fuel impacts everyone, even us diesel lovers. It’s timely then that Grainewsmachinery editor Scott Garvey decided to do some digging on just how technology has improved fuel economy on your favourite pickup trucks.

The machinery section of this issue is nearly entirely devoted to fuel economy myths and legends, a comparison of old versus new efficiency ratings and which make and model offer the most miles per gallon. I know I’m guilty of believing at least a few of the fuel-economy myths, are you? Check them out on page 26.

SEED SAFELY

I hope that by the time this issue reaches mailboxes, Mother Nature will have decided we’ve paid our dues and deserve some nicer weather. While you may be in a rush to get the crop in, don’t forget to stay safe. Take a catnap when you need it, turn off tractors when you leave them and make sure kids and grandkids play in a safe place out of the way of moving equipment. Oh, and if the road is washed out or covered in water, find a safer route! Happy seeding, Lyndsey

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