Assess 2011 results as you plan 2012

Whew! What a year! It started wet and stayed that way across much of the prairies, leaving an unprecedented number of acres unseeded. Disease was a big issue in some areas, while others recovered well from the slow spring and produced spectacular crops. But so much for 2011. With the combines put away and crop in the bin, it’s time to start thinking about plans for 2012.

Kevin Zerr, agrologist and owner of Agri-Care International in Swift Current, SK, says the first step is to take a good look at the past season and figure out what worked and what didn’t on your farm. That will help build a big-picture sense of where you should be going next year. Here are some of Zerr’s thoughts.

“So, what did we learn from 2011? Well, I’m sitting down with guys and evaluating what we did right and what we would have done differently.” He says the specific answers to those questions vary since different areas experienced different cropping challenges. And he sees value in looking at what others did, too. “I like to tell guys that it’s always good to learn from our mistakes,” he says. “But sometimes it’s less costly to simply learn from the mistakes of others.”

Still, through no fault of their own, many growers this year didn’t have much to look at. “A lot of acres went unseeded because of flooding,” he says. “If that’s what you’re facing as a grower, then a soil test becomes vital to making cropping plans.

“Some strange things can happen to both micro and macronutrients if water has been sitting on that land for the majority of the summer, and a good soil test will tell you what you’re dealing with and what crop options are open to you.”

He points out that flooded areas might now have some difficult-to-control weed problems because these areas were too wet over most of the summer. “Many of these weeds were allowed to go to seed, which may make for interesting weed control challenges in the coming year,” he says. “Growers should factor that into their cropping plans.”

But not all unseeded acreage was the result of flooding. “Millions of acres in 2011 were fallowed, which should have preserved extra moisture and nutrients,” says Zerr. “Most of this land could be available for cereals and oilseeds. Good prices for wheat and durum in 2011 will have growers looking seriously at their cereal options.

“And while production costs may be higher for cereals, canola or other oilseeds are a good option, but only if a soil test was done in the fall,” he says. “If you know there are lots of available nutrients, then the decision to grow a high value oilseed will be hard to resist.”

Zerr reminds growers that there was also a lot of unseeded land in the northern U.S. in 2011, and this may be a consideration as they make their 2012 cropping plans. “Many farms in North Dakota and Montana are now growing the same crops as we do here in western Canada,” he says. “It means there could be a swell of acres in one crop or another, which could have an influence on prices for the next growing season.

“It will be interesting to see just how many acres of durum, for example, there will be if the northern U.S. and the southern prairies lean in this direction for acres left unseeded in 2011,” says Zerr. “As with any fallow fields, yield prospects will be good on these acres.”

Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto/Chris Hepburn Photography