There’s much to learn while taking a road trip

The successes and failures are on display for all to see. Every road trip, short or long, is a crop tour at this time of year. 


You can’t tell much from a double-lane highway, but get off on the side roads and every field has a story to tell. 


This year, conditions range from flooding to drought, but there are also areas with good to excellent crops. In those regions, the differences from one field to the next are largely dependent on operator skill, luck and investment.


Seeding misses stick out like sore thumbs and have a habit of occurring right beside main roads. Seed blockage monitors have become more common, but many producers still operate without them. Every year you see some large seeding misses that continue pass after pass in a field.


Fertilizer misses aren’t quite as obvious but probably occur with even more regularity. A phosphate miss on a pulse crop may not be visible, but the difference in crop vigour is obvious if the nitrogen stops on canola or a cereal. 


Inoculant misses also occur, often due to bridging of granular product in the tank.


Weed control efforts are also on display for every passerby to assess. Statistics say early weeds are the ones that rob the most yield, but early weed control can mean that late weed flushes are missed, resulting in a messy looking crop by this time of year. 


Weed control is relatively easy in canola, and the crop is so competitive you don’t usually see weed issues from the road. 


However, weed control is all over the map in crops such as lentils. Clearfield lentil varieties will typically have less wild mustard and volunteer canola, but Group 2 resistant kochia can be a problem in all varieties. As well, the lentil canopy doesn’t hide many weeds.


Herbicide application errors can be detected if you watch closely. Stunted canola on the first sprayer pass can be a sign of herbicide residue. Sometimes, the damage reduces as the boom is flushed out. Other times, one or two spray tanks will sustain damage.


Residue either from the tank or from the preceding year could be the culprit if a crop of canola, peas or lentils seems unusually poor for the area. This year, there have also been reports of surprising disease issues that have devastated pulse crops.


You can also spot who has invested the most in fertilizer when rain has been ample but not excessive. A 60 bushel per acre canola crop can be next to a 30 or 40 bu. crop. While crop rotation, seeding depth and variety choice may all be playing a role, the main reason for the stark visual difference often comes down to the fertilizer application rate. 


Farmers use different equipment while working under different time restrictions and budgetary constraints. Some use a high level of inputs aiming for maximum yields, while others are more cautious, knowing that the inputs will be wasted some years. 


There are different philosophies, different crop rotations and different marketing objectives. As well, we all make mistakes from time to time, so we shouldn’t be too quick to judge a neighbour who doesn’t have the best looking crop. 


However, it’s the time of year when you can learn a lot about what’s working and what isn’t and the pitfalls to avoid. You just need to keep your head on a pivot as you drive around.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]