Profitability is paramount, but many others factors can cause farmers to shy away from certain crops.
Problems during this growing season are still top of mind and will affect next year’s choices.
“Friends don’t let friends grow flax,” said a tweet during harvest.
A wet fall made cutting flax a problem for many, and when you’re finally able to combine it, you still need a plan to deal with the straw. If the combine can’t adequately chop the residue, you might have to pile and burn it, which is a thankless, labour-intensive job.
Rather than trying to find uses for the fibre in flax straw, the industry increasingly realizes that it needs varieties in which the straw isn’t so difficult to handle.
The other knock against flax is that a lot of producers can’t achieve top yields. According to Saskatchewan Agriculture’s final crop report of the season, the average flax yield this year was 26 bushels per acre. While that’s well above the 10 year average of 22, it’s still well back of canola’s 40.
For durum, the susceptibility to fusarium head blight is a huge issue.
An estimated 34 percent of the Saskatchewan crop was a No. 3 with a whopping 48 percent lower than that, largely because of fusarium. In some cases, a fungicide application seemed to be helpful, but in many other instances, the value was difficult to quantify.
Spring wheat is less susceptible, but producers in the traditional durum growing region are loath to convert to a crop that typically has much lower prices. Another problem for next year will be securing durum seed that doesn’t have high levels of disease.
It was also a difficult year to be growing lentils.
Saskatchewan’s final crop report pegs the provincial lentil yield at 1,098 pounds, well below the 10-year average of 1,310. Lentils and chickpeas were the only crops of the 15 listed that had a lower than average yield.
Red lentil prices are decent, but not exceptional like they were at this time a year ago. Large green lentil prices, on the other hand, are showing a lot of strength, even for the Extra 3 and No. 3 grades.
With reds being the dominant class, expect lentil acreage to moderate next year. Many producers who pushed their rotations and tried to cash in big got their fingers slapped, and they’ll be cutting back next year.
What crops will see an acreage increase?
Soybeans are firmly established in Manitoba, and that acreage may continue to grow. Saskatchewan’s main soybean area is on the east side of the province, and acreage slipped slightly this year. Expect an increase next year after a generally good harvest result.
However, the biggest increase is likely to be in canola.
Despite all the warnings about canola rotations being too tight, the crop had a great year: good yields and good quality with lots of weed control options. Seed costs are high, but fertilizer costs are down.
Canola is relatively free of the many problems plaguing other crops, and there will be even more yellow flowers across the countryside next year, particularly in the south where canola doesn’t yet dominate.
Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.