Down on the farm, it’s been a year of surprises

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With an incoming weather system expected to dump between 50 and 70 millimetres of rain and wet snow on southern Manitoba next week, the push is on across agro-Manitoba this weekend.

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Opinion

With an incoming weather system expected to dump between 50 and 70 millimetres of rain and wet snow on southern Manitoba next week, the push is on across agro-Manitoba this weekend.

There’s much left to do before winter arrives to stay. Whether it’s harvesting the late-season crops such as corn and soybeans or the tardy ones such as a few remaining fields of canola and oats, applying fertilizer, cleaning out slurry tanks or hauling hay, these golden days of October have made it easier for farmers to whittle down the autumn “to-do” list.

Producers this week finally caught up to the five-year-average of having more than 90 per cent of their harvest completed by now, which was no small feat given that spring seeding ran about three weeks late due to the cool, wet conditions.

The remaining fields become much harder to harvest, however. Everything takes longer to dry and mature as the days get shorter and temperatures drop. The grain is more apt to require post-harvest aeration or drying, which takes more time and resources.

All things considered, it’s been a year of surprises, some more pleasant than others.

It started with the fertilizer situation. It was believed, and confirmed through soil testing last fall, that there was a lot of residual nitrogen because the drought-stricken 2021 crop was unable to make use of it.

AgVise Laboratories found that about 20 per cent of the field samples it tested in the U.S. and Canada had more than 100 pounds of residual soil nitrate, and 40 per cent had 80 pounds or more. A typical wheat crop producing 60 bushels per acre will use about 150 pounds of nitrogen, or two to three pounds per bushel of yield.

Those findings implied there was enough to cut fertilizer bills by as much as half at a time nitrogen prices had skyrocketed due to soaring fuel prices and shortages caused by the war between Russia and Ukraine.

But it didn’t play out that way, provincial fertilizer specialist John Heard told the weekly CropTalk webinar this week. The wet conditions last spring caused much of that nitrogen to leach away.

Soil tests this spring found that clay soils lost as much as 30 pounds, while the lighter sandy soils lost as much as 80 pounds. It wasn’t just the nitrogen that was lost. Heard said many fields across the province showed evidence of other nutrient deficiencies as well.

Weed control was another wild card. Typically, farmers will try to spray any growing weeds before planting the crop, so it can get a head start before the next flush emerges.

There wasn’t time for that last spring. Farmers were seeding into fields polluted with weeds, including already-blooming herbicide-resistant volunteer canola. The latest survey has ranked it as one of the top three most troublesome weeds in the province.

Some fields were so thick that it would have been tempting to leave it grow through to harvest. But that wouldn’t pan out very well, for two reasons.

When they buy canola seed, farmers sign a contract that prohibits them from growing a second crop with it. Secondly, even though these plants grew from canola that was lost on the field after the previous harvest, they don’t produce the same seed. Most varieties grown these days are hybrids, so the second generation reverts to the parental lines, which may be prolific as plants but not very productive yield-wise.

The extra moisture brought back the usual roster of plant diseases such as fusarium head blight and sclerotinia, which haven’t been as much of a problem in recent years because it’s been so dry.

However, all that said, yields across the province were surprisingly good given the slow start, which brings us back to the incoming weather system.

Soil moisture conditions made a remarkable recovery this year thanks to last winter’s heavy snowfall and timely rains through the growing season.

But once again, it’s dry, worrisomely so the farther west you go. A penetrating soak or two before freeze-up could set things up quite nicely for next spring.

Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at lrance@farmmedia.com

Laura Rance

Laura Rance
Columnist

Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.

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