Crop options worth checking out this spring

Malting barley is penciling in at profit for this year, if farmers have the room to store the crop.  |  File photo

RED DEER — Farmers may want to look at different crop options this spring, considering disease issues continue to be problematic.

Alternatives include a variety of cereals, oilseeds and pulses, and their returns could be better than expected, according to agronomists and specialists who shared options Jan. 8 during the Agronomy Update conference in Red Deer.

They offered the different choices because they want to prevent a scenario in which diseases are managing farmers.

Kelly Turkington, a research scientist with Agriculture Canada, pointed to a situation in the 1980s where he saw that play out in northeastern Saskatchewan.

Farmers there had yield loss with their canola even though the crop was on a three-year rotation, he said. The main disease then was blackleg, and producers either had to stop growing canola or extend rotations to minimize risk.

“All the varieties were susceptible back then,” Turkington said. “Right now, our saving grace for canola, with blackleg and in clubroot, is almost exclusively relying on genetics.”

But crops need to bring in cash for them to be sustainable, the panel said, so they provided options that could make financial sense.

For each crop, they outlined the average revenue per acre and subtracted the costs, coming up with an estimated profit. The profit would be used for fixed expenses and to generate cash.

The figures were used for discussion purposes only. They cautioned that their estimates likely don’t align with every farmer. Producers should always pencil in their figures to determine what might work on their farm.

The alternative crop choices were presented by Jeremy Boychyn, an agronomy research extension specialist with the Alberta barley and wheat commissions; Nevin Rosaasen, a policy and program specialist with the Alberta Pulse Growers; Keith Gabert, an agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada; and Al Hampton, an agricultural fieldman for Starland County.


Barley (most malt):

The panel estimated the average barley yield was 81 bushels per acre in Alberta. At a price of $5.30, revenue came in at $433 while costs were $237. Farmers would then be left with about $196 per acre for fixed expenses and cash.

The challenge with barley, Boychyn said, is it produces a high volume so farmers need to find a place to store it. Lodging is also a concern, especially if farmers want malt but are pushing yield.

He said it could be a bridge for fusarium, so farmers should keep that in mind when they are rotating for disease.

Opportunities with barley, however, include lots of market options, Boychyn said. It’s a consistent performer in providing good yield, as well as being relatively inexpensive to grow given that it requires lower nitrogen rates.

There are also lots of new malt and feed varieties coming on board that offer better quality, he said.

Winter wheat:

The panel estimated that average winter wheat yield is about 82.5 bu. per acre. At a price of $5.33, revenues were $433 while costs were $214, meaning a profit of $219 per acre for fixed expenses and cash.

The challenge with winter wheat, Boychyn said, is winter kill risk is high, though coverage may be available for that through crop insurance. Pea and canola stubble are good options to seed it into to help avoid winter kill.

It can also bridge disease, depending on the subsequent crop, he added. Using resistant varieties will be important.

As well, winter wheat may come with market challenges. Boychyn said some elevators might not take it, while others are taking it as a blend. It’s important to talk to buyers.

Opportunities with the crop, Boychyn said, include it being able to spread the workload with an earlier harvest in August. It can also take advantage of wet springs if seeded the previous fall, soaking up excess moisture when it’s too early to get out on to the field.

Winter wheat also yields higher than spring wheat, he said. Growers can hold off nitrogen applications until they know it has survived the winter.

There is a reduced need for wild oat herbicide, he added, because winter wheat usually outcompetes the weed. Reduced fungicide and insecticide applications are likely.



The panel estimated pea yield at 57 bu. per acre. At a price of $7.83, revenues were $446 while costs were $231, meaning a profit of $215 per acre for fixed expenses and cash.

The biggest challenge to get producers to grow peas, Rosaasen said, is rocks. He said he’s managed to put some stones through his combine and, while it’s never fun, there are ways to overcome it through modified equipment.

Another challenge is the disease aphanomyces. Rosaasen said it likes to spread in wet years because spores manage to swim through waterlogged soils.

There are also asochyta blight and the pea leaf weevil, but there are ways to fight against them.

Green peas are more prone to bleaching, he added, which can become a marketing problem. Yellow peas, however, can be marketed more easily.

Peas can fall flat, he said. but new varieties and genetics have helped this problem. Rolling is essential.

Opportunities for peas include seeding early, Rosaasen said, adding that -4 C frosts don’t hurt them.

They fix lots of nitrogen into the soil. He said subsequent spring wheat planted in pea stubble may see a 15 to 45 percent yield increase.


After reducing costs from revenues, the panel estimated lentils generated a loss of $5 per acre due to lower prices.

Lentil prices, however, have been as high as 47 cents per pound, meaning they could pen out OK, Rosaasen said.

He pointed out 300 million acres of them have been grown on the Prairies, indicating their success.

Weed control can be challenging, Rosaasen said, because they aren’t as competitive when compared to other crops.

Red lentils generally grow best.

Lentils are also susceptible to aphanomyces and other pests. It mainly does well in drained loamy soil or sandy soil, he said. Specialized equipment and rolling are needed for harvest.

As for opportunities, lentils are a short-season crop. Seed costs aren’t high and it doesn’t take much to get them going.


The panel estimated fababean yield at 64 bu. per acre. At a price of $7.50, revenues were $487 while costs were $237, meaning a profit of $250 per acre for fixed expenses and cash.

Rosaasen said challenges include the fact that some varieties might be more difficult to market.

It also requires a high seeding rate, meaning it can be challenging for some seeding units to handle it, especially when fertilizer is being applied in the same seed row.

It has indeterminate growth stages, making it difficult to desiccate at times, he said.

Like other crops, it faces pressures from insects and diseases.

Fababeans, however, are the best at fixing nitrogen, Rosaasen said. They have more than 60 lb. of available nitrogen per acre. Yield benefits usually come for the second crop after the fababean.

It can be seeded early, Rosaasen said, adding that -6 C won’t kill it. They also stand in the snow, so it can be combined in November.



After reducing costs from revenues, the panel came up with a flax profit of $164.45 for fixed expenses and cash.

The challenge, Hampton said, is it has lots of straw, though it can be baled and used by feedlots or golf courses. New equipment is also coming on board that can deal with it.

As well, it might be difficult to seed into flax residue given its durability. He has seen it recover from a bad pummelling of hail.

It also takes longer to mature, but it can weather well. It’s tricky to dry, Hampton added, because of its high oil content.

Marketability of flax may also be a little challenging, requiring farmers to truck a bit further than normal to find an elevator that will take it.

As for opportunities, Hampton said it provides a disease break, its inputs are lower, it’s fine if it’s seeded in June and it has consistent yields.

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