One independent seed grower likes to go short on varieties

Mastin Seeds has made rescue crops for crisis management situations a big part of its lineup. Farming in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains, Bob Mastin has learned a lot about short season agriculture over the past 40 years.

Although Mastin is acutely aware of the compressed 2018 growing season facing his customers and his own farm, he doesn’t seem to be as uptight about it as some other people. In fact, the veteran seed grower sees it as an opportunity.

No, not just an opportunity to sell seed but an opportunity to promote more strategic crop rotations.

Mastin suggests that farmers consider a spring-seeded short season crop that can be harvested in August. There are a number of good choices, including short season canola and field pea or one-time forages for the feed market such as sorghum and millet.

Although short season crops are generally viewed as crisis management tools, Mastin emphasizes that there’s money to be made this summer growing Polish canola, field peas and livestock feed. In fact, just about any regular crop that looks like a failure when August rolls around can be baled for green feed. This can generate some cash flow, whereas a cover crop plow-down generates none.

“Year in, year out, I’m averaging 35 bushels per acre with my Polish Early One. In a year like this, 35 bu. looks pretty good compared to no bushels,” said Mastin.

“If you seed Polish the first of May, your yield is still pretty good. You seed at the first of June and the yield is down a little bit.”

Producer Clint Moffat of Fort St. John, B.C, grew 500 to 600 acres of Early One last year and experienced a 38 bu. average.

“He was pretty happy with that, and the early harvest lets growers move on to fall-seeded crops, like our Pintail winter wheat,” said Mastin.

Mastin said his strategy gives a grower two early harvests in a row. The first early harvest is August 2018 when the short season crop comes off. The second early harvest is July 2019 when the winter wheat comes off. In both cases, it spreads the workload and helps ensure higher quality crops.

“Data shows winter wheat is the most profitable crop a farmer can grow eight out of 10 years on the Prairies, even more profitable than canola. You have lower input costs, higher yield and you get the earlier harvest, so you’re exposed to less risk. You get higher prices before the markets go into the doldrums. Just dump it at the elevator, and if you’re getting 110 bu., who cares if it’s five percent less milling weight.

“I tell guys that I had never grown winter wheat before, and even I didn’t screw it up my first time. If I can grow winter wheat, then anybody can grow this Pintail. I guarantee it will work if you follow the plan. If it doesn’t, I’ll give you the seed for free.

“I’ve got 90,000 pounds of Early One. That goes a long way when you’re only seeding four lb. per acre. Most of my Polish typically goes for crisis management. When it gets to the end of May and guys have half the farm that still isn’t seeded, that’s when my phone stars ringing. I raised my prices on Polish to $5.95 last year when it was flying out the door, just a little over half of what the Argentines are selling for. So what kind of profit are these other guys making?”

Mastin specialized in early-maturing oats when he started in the seed business. From there he went to early-maturing barley. Today, he is one of a handful of growers dealing in Polish canola. He currently handles the earliest maturing field pea in Canada. He also carries an early-maturing hard red spring wheat.

Mastin’s short-season favourites:

  • Early One Polish canola is roughly a month earlier than Argentine and there’s less pod shatter when straight cut. Developed in Saskatoon, it’s part of the latest genetic developments in synthetic Polish hybrids.
  • AAC Peace River, the earliest maturing yellow pea in Canada. It’s similar to CDC Meadow but four or five days earlier.
  • CDC Go Early is an early-maturing hard red spring wheat that was bred from the popular CDC Go.
  • AC Juniper oats is an old milling variety with early maturity.

Other short-season varieties from the provincial seed guides:

  • CWRS – Go Early; AC Intrepid; AAC Redwater; WR859CL
  • CWAD –CDC Desire
  • Malt barley – CDC Kindersley (limited demand)
  • Feed/food barley — CDC Dolly
  • Oat – Lu
  • Yellow pea – Barth; CDC Canary; AAC Carver; CDC Golden; Hyline; AAC Lacombe; CDC Prosper; CDC Safron, CDC Treasure
  • Green pea – CDC Raezer

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