Never known for her predictability, Mother Nature threw a lot at Canadian farmers in 2019. Whether it was a late, cold spring followed by dry conditions in the West, almost impossible seeding conditions due to heavy rains in the East, or early snow across much of the country — growing crops in Canada last year was challenging. Despite those challenges, most of the harvest was eventually completed. But in the end it was a late year, which will bring a host logistical difficulties come spring.
“A surprising amount of the crop was in decent shape although growers were harvesting in less than ideal conditions,” says Jason Voogt, an agronomist and owner of Field 2 Field Agronomy in Carman, MB. “Even into late November people were out there trying to bring in what they could. There was a lot of snow, rain and melt but when it got cold enough to (support) equipment, growers were able to get off a lot of their crop.”
As growers approach the spring season, fields may not be in the best shape, fall fertilizer may not be in place, and they may have questions about their seed quality. But, that doesn’t automatically mean that spring will get off to a bad start.
“Time is a precious commodity in farming where you control as much as you can,” says Brittnye Kroeker, SeedGrowth specialist with Bayer, Canada. “Growers are going to have a lot to get done this spring, so if they can plan as much as they can going into the season, they can take control of opportunities where they are able.”
Here are a few things growers can do to start the season off right:
LOOK FOR QUALITY SEED
“The majority of what we’ve tested so far has been very good quality,” says Sarah Foster, president and senior seed analyst at 20/20 Seed Labs in Nisku, AB. “In a good year we have more to test after harvest, but this year, about 20 per cent of the seed was in deep dormancy by the time growers were able to harvest. However, the bulk of what we have tested is at 85 per cent germination or better.”
If growers have had their seed tested and germination is in the 60 to 70 per cent range, Foster recommends having it re-tested in January. That low rate could mean the seed is dead, but after such a cold, late harvest it could also mean the seed is dormant.
If you don’t know the germination rate of the seed, you won’t be able to set your seed drill accurately for even germination, says Foster, and adds that given how late the harvest was last year, pre-harvest desiccation and weed control was necessary in many areas. It should be a priority to repeat germination tests this year to ensure seedlings have not been affected by symptoms of chemical toxicity, she says.
CHECK FOR DISEASE LEVELS IN SEED
The seed tested this year at 20/20 Seed Labs showed higher than usual levels of disease. Soil tests in recent years showed high levels of inoculum in many areas across the country, so it was only a matter of time before those diseases showed up in increased levels in seed, says Foster.
“From what we have tested this year, we have seen the highest levels of fusarium head blight since 2016,” she says. “We also saw a lot of alternaria rearing its ugly head this year, more root rot than usual and increased levels of ascochyta in peas.”
BE PREPARED FOR SOME PREP WORK TO GET YOUR NUTRITION RIGHT
With the delayed harvest, fall fertilizer numbers are down across much of the country. But growers can’t ignore soil health going into spring seeding. Given the conditions last harvest, there are two likely scenarios farmers will experience this spring, says Voogt.
“Some fields are very rutted due to equipment and so (farmers) will have to get in there and do some high-speed discing, deal with regrowth and prepare the seed bed. They can put down fertilizer at that time as well,” he says.
The second scenario affects growers whose fields are in good shape at seeding. They can put their fertilizer down with the seed, but they might need to use alternative nitrogen sources such as ESN or UAN in order to meet the crop’s nutrient needs in a single pass and save time at seeding, says Voogt.
USE TREATED SEED
“If you have had your seed tested there is a lot you will know about that seed, and so using a complete seed treatment will help you get a handle on protecting against the knowns and the unknowns that exist in the soil,” says Kroeker. “Disease in soil and seed now shows up everywhere and, unfortunately, increasing your seeding rate is not going to be enough to stop that early season disease from getting your crop off to a rough start.”
Seed treatments can help improve that situation a lot, but it’s important to pay attention to how seed treatment is being applied to make sure you are getting adequate coverage to get the most out of the product, says Kroeker.
“It’s hard to treat frozen seed,” she adds. “So before you plan to apply a seed treatment move your seed into a bin that has aeration. Turn on a fan a couple of days before you apply the seed treatment to allow for better coverage.”
MIX IT RIGHT
In addition to using a seed treatment, making sure to get uniform coverage is also key. “Most of the important action happens in the auger, or mixing mechanism of the treater, no matter the mixer or seed treater you are using,” says Kroeker.
“For most treaters when it comes to treating cereals, make sure your mixer is about half to two-thirds full and not more than that or you won’t be able to achieve good seed coverage,” she says. “When you think you are done do a visual inspection.” One benefit of seed treatment is that it’s coloured so you can see if the product is properly coating the seed.
“I think this winter, more than ever, growers are going to be watching and waiting to see how soon they can get into their fields, what their seed tests say, what their soil samples tell them, and putting a plan in place to make sure they are using their time well in spring,” says Voogt. “This spring it is going to be all about logistics.” FF