Warning issued on crop rotations

Saskatchewan crop insurance data shows more than 70 percent of the northeast is rotating between wheat and canola

Go long or end up short, said Patrick Mooleki.

Short-term economic gains will lead to long-term pain if farmers don’t start using more diverse crop rotations, said the Agriculture Canada research scientist.

“As much as they consider the economics, they should also consider the long-term effects of the short-term rotations they are following,” Mooleki said during Cropsphere in Saskatoon.

“Because in the long run, they may not have the options of some of these crops or some of the tools that we have because they went for a short-term benefit instead of long-term benefits,” he said during his presentation about the impacts of crop rotation on disease management in canola, peas and wheat.

He said many producers tend to be unmoved at agronomy conferences and meetings led by crop specialists, scientists and other producers on topics of agronomy.

They are instead swayed by crop earnings and economic reports.

“When they come here for crop production (week), sometimes one of the major attractions is to listen to economists who are telling them in terms of the market forecast which crops are going to be selling good and have a good price and all that. So they listen to that and they end up going for those crops that have got good value at the expense over agronomy.”

Seeing farmers follow economics and tight rotations instead of sound agronomics is nothing new for crop and disease researchers.

“We have known for a while that our farmers are following a very tight crop rotation. In most cases, (it) is two year crop rotations where they have wheat, canola, wheat, canola, or maybe just another cereal,” he said.

He compared it to the stock market that has both short- and long-term philosophies and practices.

“It’s like dealing with the day trader in terms of buying stocks. If you’re looking on the short term, you would think that, ‘oh this stock doesn’t make money, I’ll pick another stock.’ ”

However, by doing that, he said you may overlook some good stocks with solid long-term profitability.

Data compiled by Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corp. has some researchers scratching their heads at the short-term thinking on which some producers are basing their decisions.

“When crop insurance came up with this data, I was shocked to see the extent to which farmers are actually putting in such tight crop rotations,” he said.

Information was compiled for over 115,000 quarters, taking yield and recording what crop was seeded on that quarter each year between 2008 and 2015.

Mooleki accumulated the most recent SCIC data from 2011-15 to determine the cropping sequence of individual quarters of land throughout the province.

Northeastern and northwestern regions lead the province for having the tightest crop rotations.

More than 70 percent of the northeast is rotating between wheat and canola while almost 60 percent of northwestern acres are doing the same tight rotations.

Of particular note is data that shows several northwestern producers growing canola for five years in a row.

Also, as a result of tight rotations, Mooleki said it’s not a coincidence that data compiled by Saskatchewan Agriculture and Agriculture Canada in 2018 shows the northwest has the highest number of incidences of clubroot in the province.

“In this area, when we look at the cropping system and the sequences that they are following, that’s where we have the highest percentage of producers who are following a very tight canola-wheat rotation. It was a tight cereal-canola, cereal-canola rotation,” he said.

“This is where we have a big problem with tight crop rotations. It doesn’t surprise me to see that’s also the same area where the incidence of clubroot has been found.”

“So the warning to them is that the canola frequency is too tight in the same field.”

Other regions, particularly in the southern regions of the province, where there’s more options available, get a better report card for crop diversity.

“The southeast, for example, does not have just one crop that is the predominant one. As such we don’t see that huge proportion of the cropping system diminished by canola-wheat, canola-wheat. There are other options that farmers are growing because of the diversity,” he said.

Sometimes however, producers don’t have better economic options to include in their rotations.

“For example, we may ask them to include peas or flax. If flax doesn’t have a market, they’re not going to choose it or if peas don’t have a market, they’re not going to grow peas,” he said.

Increased risks of tight or poor rotations include development of herbicide resistance in weeds, increase in disease incidence and severity, increase in the cost of disease and weed control, loss of income due to poor quality crops and lose of markets due to rejection of crops with high levels of diseases.

A tight or poor rotation leads to:

  • increased incidence and severity of diseases, insects and weeds
  • increasing resistance to pesticides
  • declining pesticide options
  • decreased crop-type alternatives
  • declining yields and grain quality
  • reduced returns
  • irrational cropping sequence and crop husbandry

“In the end, you have no good options for crops, you have no options for pesticides to use, so your cropping system simply becomes irrational. As a result, you keep growing anyhow and just following what makes money that particular year. So you end up now with this unsustainable vicious circle of a poor crop rotation,” he said.

However, favourable (environmental) growing conditions have also impacted farmer’s decisions, which has contributed to disease issues.

“Probably the last 10 years, our soil moisture conditions haven’t been very bad. So in some of those areas you find, particularly with peas, that root rot became a problem. So farmers ended up shying away from growing peas and ended up just remaining with canola and wheat,” he said.

There may be other options to peas, but farmers won’t grow them without a good market and reasonable prices, he said.

“I’m not giving them excuses, but I would think they’re definitely hedging at the expense of diseases.”

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