Lessons learned from difficult growing season

Farmers know intuitively not to count their chickens before they hatch. Weather disasters from hail to drought can spell defeat in any given year, even when victory seems certain.

However, this growing season dashed the hopes of producers in new and innovative ways.

Too much precipitation before or during seeding or at harvest time has often taken a toll, but 2016 will go into the history books for losses inflicted over a large portion of the grain belt by too much rain (and snow) from May all the way into October.

Two big question marks remain.

  • With crop worth billions of dollars still remaining in the field in Alberta and Saskatchewan, how much will have to wait until spring to be harvested?
  • What will the losses be on that crop? Wheat and durum remaining in the field will almost certainly be feed quality, but how much canola will be lost to shelling?

Beyond the old egg hatching analogy, here are some other lessons from 2016.

Whether it’s someone inspecting the organs of a pig that’s never even been outside or sophisticated weather patterning employing numerous models simultaneously, long-range weather forecasts are wrong about as often as they’re right. You might as well just toss darts at a weather board.

A great deal of ink is spilled talking about La Nina and El Nino and whether they’re developing or fading. Even more ink is spilled talking about what that might mean for weather patterns.

Unfortunately, even if you understand them and follow the analysis closely, it’s unlikely to provide information that’s reliable or actionable at a local level.

Weather forecasts for the upcoming few days and perhaps the entire week bear watching — sometimes two weeks. It’s also true that when you’re stuck in a certain weather pattern, the pattern has a tendency to persist. Beyond that, weather forecasts are useful mainly for making conversation.

With prices extremely attractive, many producers dramatically increased the proportion of lentils in their cropping plan this spring. It was not uncommon for half the farm to be in lentils, and in a few cases, entire farms were seeded to lentils.

Prices have remained strong, and many producers will do all right with lentils despite disease issues. In other cases, lentil crops were a disaster.

Modifying another poultry analogy, it’s best not to have too many eggs in one basket. Weather that causes big disease issues in lentils and durum can typically produce a great crop of canola. It’s also good to have a mix of earlier-maturing crops to balance those that can be later to harvest.

Level land with fine-textured, heavy soil commands a premium price, but weather can be a big equalizer. Hilly land tends to drain rather than flood, and sandier soil is less prone to water-logging. They can produce some great yields in wet years.

For many producers, some of their best returns in 2016 will come from some of their poorest land.

Fall weed control, winter wheat seeding and fall nitrogen applications have all been affected by the wet weather and delayed harvest. Marketing and cash flow schedules have required major adjustments.

Combines might be rolling in November or even December, and if they aren’t, they’ll be rolling next spring before seeding.

Plans are made to be changed.

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