On the Farm: Nearly a third of cultivated acres on farm near Peterson, Sask., lost over a five-year period
Slowly but surely, Saskatchewan farmer Jason Basset is reclaiming the farmland that he lost during “the wet years.”
Between 2010 and 2014, Basset’s farm, located an hour’s drive east of Saskatoon, was swamped by excess rainfall.
In 2010 alone, the area received more than 40 inches of rain, ranking it as the wettest year in more than half a century.
Two years later, in 2012, annual precipitation was also well above average, resulting in rising water levels and flooded farmland.
“One of the problems for us is that we don’t have a major water body or an outlet in this area,” says Basset, who grows wheat, barley, canola and peas on approximately 2,500 acres of farmland.
“When water starts to accumulate, you can’t trench it or pump it anywhere. It just accumulates in the low spots and sits there. Because of that, we’ve seen a huge fluctuation in our cultivated acreage.”
Basset farms near Peterson, Sask., a don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-it hamlet.
All told, he lost nearly a third of his cultivated acres to rising water over a five-year period.
Initially, Saskatchewan Crop Insurance provided compensation for unseeded acres on the flooded cropland.
But eventually, the lost acres were deemed uninsurable and SCIC stopped covering his losses.
Protecting the hundred-year-old farmyard from encroaching floodwaters also took time and money.
“It was kind of a crazy ride with all the flooding,” Basset recalls.
“We protected the yard with a berm. I even have a picture of the Department of Highways surveying by my driveway in a canoe.”
At the height of the flooding, Basset estimates the water in some spots near his farmyard was close to five metres deep.
Work aimed at reclaiming lost acres has been ongoing for the past few years, but progress is gradual and the work involved is costly and time consuming.
So far, about one-half to two-thirds of the acres he lost during the floods have been reconditioned and brought back into production.
But there’s still a long way to go.
“We had quarter sections that used to be 130 or 140 (cultivated) acres that were down to 85 acres or so,” Basset says.
“Now those acres are coming back but it takes an amazing amount of work to get that land back into production.”
Basset has been involved in the family farm at Peterson since 2006.
He and his father still farm together, but in 2015, his dad moved to Saskatoon and took on a reduced role in the operation.
The terrain around Peterson consists of rolling hills and low-lying basins.
Basset describes the farmland as having variable productive capacity, with heavy clay in the low-lying areas and lighter, drought-prone soils on nearby hilltops.
The Bassets used to keep cattle on some of their land, but the herd was sold in 2009.
About 12 years ago, Basset acquired a nearby seed cleaning plant as a means of supplementing the farm income.
The seed cleaning venture brings in additional revenue and keeps Basset busy during the long winter months.
“I never really liked working with cattle so (the seed cleaning plant) was an alternative. I just saw it as an opportunity to take over a turn-key business,” he says.
“It’s been good but the income is variable. Certain farming trends have changed over the last 12 years and I think back then there was a lot more bin run seed being used …. I think certified seed use has become more and more prevalent.”
In an effort to expand the seed cleaning and conditioning side of the operation, Basset acquired Swedish-made Bo-Mill Tri-Q seed sorter in 2016 and added it to the existing seed cleaning plant.
The Bo-Mill sorter uses near infrared spectrometry to sort seeds according to selected parameters, such as protein content, kernel vitreousness and mycotoxin levels, to name just a few.
When Basset purchased the seed sorter, fusarium headblight (FHB) and high DON levels were common degrading factors in prairie wheat.
More recently, he has used the Bo-Mill to divide commercial barley into malt-quality samples and feed.
The Bo-Mill separates chitted kernels from non-chitted and is also capable of sorting barley into specific bands of protein, according to brewer preferences.
“I was initially looking for a way to expand the cleaning plant … and get a bit more specialized,” Basset says.
“At first, we thought fusarium damaged kernels and DON levels were going to be a common concern every year but I think it’s going to be weather dependent going forward …,” he says.
“In fact, the amount of fusarium sorting that I’ve done lately has been fairly small compared to the other kinds of custom sorting that we’ve done.”
Basset believes his near-infrared sorter is one of only two privately-owned Bo-Mill machines now operating in Saskatchewan.
The machine is capable of sorting approximately a tonne of grain per hour, he says.