Planning for weather continues to be farmers’ biggest wild card

OYEN, Alta. — It seems intuitive but weather rules everything on a grain farm.

“Of all the things that might drive your yield, the weather is going to drive all of it. It is one of the things you can’t control so we plan everything around what you might expect to happen; then we pray for the best,” said Keith Gabert of the Canola Council of Canada.

Rainfall in areas like southeastern Alberta is even more critical on brown soil, where growing anything is an annual challenge.

The Chinook Applied Research Association based at Oyen has been running trials on canola seeding depth, plant density and planting speed.

“It takes about half an inch of moisture after seeding to make you look like a genius,” Gabert told a tour group.

Oilseeds should be planted about half an inch deep but this year there was no moisture in this region until mid-June. Seeds had to go in deeper.

Gabert tells farmers to check the seeding depth while planting. If the growth is poor it may not be poor germinating seed, but depth.

Producers were urged to aim for seven to 14 plants per sq. foot but recommendations were changed so five to eight plants per sq. foot is closer to the ideal now.

Two plants per sq. foot are probably adequate and would not likely have to be reseeded as long as the growth was even across the field.

“Almost every field is good enough to keep but it may not reach its potential as easily and it may not reach its potential across the board as it would have if you had five plants per sq. foot,” he said.

“At five plants per sq. foot you have got a much more manageable stand.”

He advises planting test strips on the farm to try out new ideas before making a big investment in change.

This year many fields look scraggly with second growth and dead patches because of too much or too little moisture.

In very dry regions with few plants, a plow down may be a last resort.

“It is not unusual in a really bad year to have all the hilltops bare.”

“In this part of the world, you may decide summerfallow is your best option. If you have 0.25 plants per sq. foot, you might as well clean that field out and hope for a better year next year. You are just going to have weeds and trouble with a canola stand that thin,” he said.

Mid-summer heat could do further damage. Canola is a cool weather crop with a relatively short season. The heat affects the plants’ hormones and if there are too many hot days and warm evenings while the crop is flowering, yield is affected. Cool evenings allow the plant to compensate for the hot days.

“The plant cannot recover from that kind of stress and it starts to drop flowers,” he said.

Be patient with this year’s harvest.

While more people have switched to straight cutting, swathing is one way to manage an uneven crop.

“This might be the year you want to pull a swather out because at least that crop will dry down and be ready to combine in a little more predictable fashion,” he said.

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