Glacier FarmMedia COVID-19 & the Farm

Do’s and don’ts this planting season

A few pointers on what goes into optimizing crop production and profitability

Photo: iStock/Getty Images

One key message looking at the coming 2021 seeding and growing seasons from a panel of western Canadian agronomists and crop advisors in late March — pay attention to the details.

That may seem like a no-brainer, but the agronomists point out there are plenty of important dos and don’ts — some small, some not so small — producers need to pay attention to ahead of and during seeding season and on into the rest of the growing season, as well.

As part of a series of online seminars organized by AGvisorPRO, on deck for discussion of important details to remember were agronomists Shannon Winny of GroWest Ag Ventures, based in Harris, about 40 kilometres northeast of Rosetown, Sask.; Chad Andrukow with Point Forward Solutions, based in Camrose, Alta., about 90 minutes south of Edmonton; Brunel Sabourin of Antara Agronomy Services, in the rural municipality of Montcalm in southern Manitoba’s Red River Valley; and Terry Aberhart of Aberhart Ag Solutions and Sure Growth Technologies based at Langenburg, in east-central Saskatchewan near the Manitoba border.

About 120 farmers from across Western Canada and various parts of the United States tuned into the online seminar for The Dos and Don’ts for #Plant21.

Shannon Winny

GroWest Ag Ventures

While all farmers think about rotation, Shannon Winny urged producers to really give rotation some thought. “For example, you have a field selected for a particular crop, well think about what happened the last time you grew that crop,” she says. “Were there any particular issues?”

Certainly, in that part of central Saskatchewan, which grows a lot of lentils, root rot pathogens such as Fusarium and Aphanomyces are a major concern. Has that been factored into your crop and field selection?

When developing a crop protection plan, keep the risk of developing herbicide-resistant weeds in mind. Follow a herbicide rotation that uses different combinations of active ingredient chemistry groups to reduce the risk. “You want to start with clean fields and keep them clean,” says Winny.

Also, with herbicides, think back to the products that have been used on a field over the past couple of seasons. Is there a risk of herbicide residue that could affect the health of the crop being seeded in 2021? Particularly if there have been dry growing seasons, herbicide carryover can be a concern. Winny says a low level of residue might not kill the new crop, but it could weaken seedlings and make it a much less competitive crop against weeds during the growing season.

So, on the do side, think about rotations, but on the don’t side, she cautioned farmers not to get carried away with applying higher rates of micronutrients without first knowing if they are needed.

With some fairly strong commodity prices, she says there is a risk farmers might cut back on macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and sulphur and overapply micronutrients. That doesn’t work.

She recommends a tried-and-true approach — obtain a soil test on the field, set yield targets, working with an agronomist if necessary, to develop a proper fertility program to obtain that yield. Also, perform tissue tests during the growing season to determine if an in-crop application of micronutrients is needed.

Winny says it is important to have a balanced macronutrient program first and then apply micronutrients where and when it is practical, when they are needed.

Chad Andrukow

Point Forward Solutions

Chad Andrukow urged farmers to have a look at precision agriculture and at using variable-rate application of inputs as a means to improve production efficiencies. He says applying inputs at the proper rate, based on the productivity of the soil type and moisture regime, can improve the return on investment. He says it is important for farmers to “know their land.”

And on the don’t side of his presentation, Andrukow emphasized the importance of having a good handle on seed quality, and to know the proper seeding rate, so “don’t discount the value of using good quality seed,” he says. He recommended all seed batches be tested to confirm the germination rate as well as to obtain a rating on seed vigour.

“What is your seed quality and have you done a 1,000 kernel count to determine the seeding rate to produce a desirable crop stand,” says Andrukow. To optimize production, he says it is vital to get a vigorously growing crop out of the ground at the proper plant density — a nice even germination carries on to produce even crop maturity, making fungicide applications more effective and reducing the risk of lodging, all factors that contribute to yield and crop quality.

Brunel Sabourin

Antara Agronomy Services

Brunel Sabourin says while it was an unusually dry winter in southern Manitoba, farmers need to do their best to get a vigorously growing crop out of the ground as early as possible.

Particularly in southern Manitoba, where mid to late summer can be hot and dry, he says the best plan is to seed as early as possible to make use of available moisture and get the crop growing before the heat blast of summer. While conditions can vary, most years it is best to apply most of the recommended fertilizer at time of seeding.

Sabourin says achieving a nice even germination is key to the success of the crop. A vigorously growing crop will help supress weeds, and the even stand will improve the effectiveness of fungicide applications, as well as pre-harvest treatments.

“I know with corn, for example, an uneven emergence can result in a five to 10 per cent yield loss,” says Sabourin. “And I would suspect it would be similar losses with other crops as well.”

He urged farmers to take a pro-active approach, particularly with weed control. A post-harvest herbicide application can often be more effective in controlling weeds, rather than leaving them and then trying to control with in-crop herbicides the following spring.

And his don’t recommendation — with any machinery that needs to be adjusted or calibrated, “don’t just set it and forget it,” says Sabourin. He says too often he talks with farmers who have experienced some problem with seeding or fertilizer application rates or herbicide coverage and it is simply because they haven’t checked machinery to make sure it is properly adjusted (calibrated) and operating properly.

“I like to use the acronym GOAL,” says Sabourin. “That stands for get out and look. Don’t just assume that everything is working properly on the seed drill or that all nozzles are working properly on the field sprayer — get out and look.” For example, check to see that seed runs are working, seed is being placed at the proper depth and fertilizer is being placed where it is supposed to be.

Terry Aberhart

Aberhart Ag Solutions

Terry Aberhart, who is part of a family farm at Langenburg in east-central Saskatchewan, along with being a crop advisor, says one of the most valuable “dos” in his experience is “to put the farmer shadow in the field.” And if the human shadow can’t always be there, make use of the “digital shadows” that are available to monitor crops and field conditions.

His “do” message is to be out on the ground spending time monitoring crops and field conditions throughout the growing season, while another option is to hire an agronomy service to help with field scouting duties.

There are a number of tools that can provide a digital shadow as well, including drones with cameras, weather stations and moisture sensors, which can provide feedback on changing conditions.

And as commodity prices are fairly strong in 2021, it generally follows that input prices will increase as well, says Aberhart. Some input suppliers have developed an affordability index — serving as a guide to increase prices, knowing what the market can bear.

Aberhart’s don’t message is “don’t just turn on the tap with inputs” without a good handle on a proper, balanced, fertility program, for example. He says a producer might be tempted to “crank on the nitrogen” but if it is not in balance with other nutrients it may not provide any value, “and we, as agronomists, have all seen situations where higher rates can even negatively affect yield.”

Similarly, with other inputs, such as fungicides and micronutrients, “manage them properly” and apply as needed — blanket applications, if not needed, can quickly cut into profit margins. Aberhart also encourages producers to apply precision agriculture technology and consider variable-rate application of inputs as a “valuable management tool.”

Aberhart says with soil testing, field mapping and other data analysis, most agronomic treatments can be managed by variable-rate technology. That includes variable-rate seeding, variable-rate fertilizer, variable-rate fungicides, variable-rate plant growth regulators and even variable-rate desiccants — these are all options to help producers better manage and be more efficient and cost-effective with inputs.

COPA Medallion COPA finalist in 2012, 2014 and 2015.
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