Good reason for diversifying your crop mix

Will you be growing a new crop this year? Interesting choices abound and there are many good reasons for diversifying your crop mix.

Attractive price contracts have been available on hemp and quinoa, but there’s a lot to know and consider about each of these crops. If it was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Northern Quinoa Production Corp. (NorQuin) based in Sask-atoon has been working with western Canadian farmers since 1992 and has developed its own quinoa varieties. Total production contracts are offered along with agronomic support.

Quinoa is recommended for the cooler parkland soils. The company only wants to contract production that’s north or near Highway 16. Weed control is difficult because there are no registered herbicides yet.

Company information says that all applicants are reviewed based on land location, previous crop protection products used on their land and crop rotation.

Quinoa is gluten free, so it shouldn’t be grown after wheat. And because there’s no way to control volunteers, it shouldn’t be grown after canola either. New growers are advised to start with just 50 to 100 acres.

Several companies contract hemp including Hemp Production Services, which describes itself as “a multi-generational family-farm-owned hempseed food production company.” The sister company, Hemp Genetics International, has developed its own hempseed varieties, which are a lot shorter than what was previously available.

A criminal record check is still required to apply to Health Canada for an industrial hemp licence, but the red tape has been reduced. Harvest can be difficult and it’s recommended that the crop be harvested at high moisture and dried to reduce the problem of fibre wrapping around moving parts.

Why would anyone mess with a crop that requires so much extra effort? Because contract prices have been around 75 cents a pound and there’s good money to be made if everything goes right.

Other minor acreage crops that may provide a good fit for some growers include camelina and coriander. On all smaller crops, it’s great to have a contract because open market demand could be limited, especially in a good production year. In many cases, obtaining seed is contingent upon having a contract.

Of course, growing a new crop doesn’t necessarily mean growing something exotic. Existing crops continue to push into new regions.

Lentils have been slow to catch on in Alberta, but the seeded area increased from 110,000 acres in 2014 to 575,000 acres last year. Lentil acreage could be down a bit in Saskatchewan this year due to disease issues, but acreage might continue to rise in Alberta.

Soybean acres have exploded in Manitoba, while Saskatchewan’s much smaller soybean acreage was down a little bit in 2016. Following good results last year, expect more first-time soybean growers in both provinces this spring.

Many farms grow only two or three crops. More crops in the rotation is healthy from an agronomic point of view, but it’s also important for economic security.

Based on history, a major downturn in grain prices is likely at some point. When the mainstream crops become unprofitable, producers will scramble to grow something else. Rather than buying or renting more land, why not try to increase returns on your existing land base?

Trying a new-to-you crop comes with risks, so it’s important to do advance research and understand what you’re getting into.

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