Farmers, corporate agronomists and crop insurance adjusters attending Saskatchewan Agriculture’s 2013 Crop Diagnostic Schools got a hands-on look at crop issues ranging from nutrient deficiencies to herbicide damage.
At the Indian Head Diagnostic School on July 31, Saskatchewan Agriculture research specialists and extension agronomists were on hand to explain in-field demonstrations maintained by Indian Head Agriculture Research Foundation (IHARF), provide background information and answer questions.
The centerpiece of the event was a wheat plot that had been purposely grown to under-yield. Grant McLean, Saskatchewan Agriculture’s cropping management specialist at Moose Jaw, played the role of the farmer. Diagnostic School participants asked McLean questions about the history of the crop and the field to determine what had gone wrong.
When it comes to crop diagnostics, McLean said “one of the biggest challenges is keeping an open mind.” Many farmers and agronomists investigating a crop go into the field thinking they already know the answers. In that situation, McLean said, “It’s easy to jump to conclusions.”
Many things can go wrong during the course of the growing season. But, McLean said, in his travels around the province, despite the potential pitfalls, he’s seen many healthy looking crops. “It’s phenomenal the skills that producers have,” McLean said.
“As we get these farms bigger and bigger,” he said, more and more management skills are needed.”
For farmers farming more acres, it’s becoming more and more important to get into the field at exactly the right time for each operation. “It seems like in the last few years the window is narrower and narrower,” McLean said.
Farmers need to pay attention to crop stages, disease, pests and nutrient needs. Regular crop scouting is a necessity, McLean said. “As soon as you get off your in-crop sprayer you should be in that crop at least once a week.”
Agronomists can provide advice, but McLean reminded participants that “In some cases you don’t know what the right answer is.” During the growing season, farmers are constantly making decisions, hoping to get the best economic return. That doesn’t always mean applying every possible fungicide. When it comes to bang for your buck, McLean said, “fertility is always the first. Weed control is next.”
“As good as the fungicides are, they’re only going to suppress things.”
For farmers undecided about whether to spray a fungicide, agronomists are on hand to help. “They can advise you,” McLean said. “But it’s your dollars and you have to make that decision. I have the greatest respect for anyone who’s still managing a farm business.”
This was the first year Saskatchewan Agriculture has held this Crop Diagnostic School. Demand was high — all four July events were sold out (two at Swift Current and two at Indian Head).
Coincidentally, July 31 was Grant McLean’s last day on the job before his retirement.