Flooded fields require special rehab: agronomist

BRANDON — Ongoing saturation and repeated flooding have made a mess of many farm fields in Manitoba.

However, they need to be careful and consider their options when dealing with bad patches.

Residue-clogged areas might need to be treated differently than salt-choked corners, Canola Council of Canada agronomist Angela Brackenreed told a Manitoba Canola Growers meeting at Manitoba Ag Days Jan. 20.

“This might be a four-letter word to some people, but considering burning … in isolated spots, just to manage extreme residues, particularly in low spots (might be necessary),” said Brackenreed.

“This may be even a worse four-letter word, but considering a little bit of tillage, just in isolated spots, (could be necessary).”

Recent wet years and massive flooding in 2011 and 2014 have created management problems for farmers. Some low spots have become no-go zones for crop production, with farmers unable to get into saturated soils to control plant growth.

As problems have festered, weed growth has gone rank to the point that regular control methods are not always effective.

Non-invasive control might not be possible, especially if the soil is still wet.

Brackenreed said it’s why farmers might need to till or burn small patches if they want to bring that land back into production.

Farmers can also use grass mixes or alfalfa to restore marginal areas, where worthwhile crop production looks doubtful or too challenging. Some areas haven’t been able to come back into production for years.

“We’ve seen these marginal areas growing in recent years,” said Brackenreed.

“I know it’s difficult to take acres out of production, but I think in some cases the economics of this could actually work out in your favour if you’ve been dealing with excess moisture.”

Saline patches are another vexing problem for farmers who have seen the recent wet years leave a cake-like layer of salt over the soil. It’s land that yields poorly, is hard to work and is particularly bad for crops such as canola.

Brackenreed said frustrated farmers might want to get into those white patches and till them up, but they shouldn’t in most cases.

“It can be tempting to go into those areas and till, but that’s definitely not advised,” said Brackenreed. “By doing that, you might actually be just bringing up the salts into the root zone.”

Farmers have hoped to see the wet years retreat, but now it’s unclear whether they were an aberration or a sign of things to come.

“We’ve been seeing this increase in severity and size for the last number of years as we’ve seen that water table moving up,” said Brackenreed about saline patches.

“It’s getting to the point that we really need to manage this.”

Contact ed.white@producer.com

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