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By farmathand

Planting season is right around the corner. We sat down with Scott Keller to pick his brain about what you need to know prior to seeding this year. Check it out!

(Or skip to the bottom if you want to set up a time with Scott, his contact info below.)

Q: Tell us about crop rotation. Many farmers are running into tight rotations and as a result residual weed/disease/insect problems and pesticide resistance. What are some things that farmers can do to minimize these issues?

A: Expand your rotation. Two crops isn’t a rotation, you need three minimum. The problem gets compounded further by also having a KISS mentality when it comes to selecting herbicides. I will pick on the popular wheat-canola rotation. Most farmers will also grow the same herbicide tolerant canola system across their farm; they could use both RR and LL systems to limit many weed and disease problems. Then in their wheat they use the same in crop herbicide across the farm.

Add a pulse crop or barley to the rotation, even if it’s just 20% of your acres and rotate canola herbicide systems. With a little bit of management you can expand a wheat-canola rotation to wheat-RRcanola-peas-wheat-LLcanola. Then use a group 1 grass herbicide on the wheat after peas and use a group 2 grass herbicide on the wheat after LL canola. We are effectively talking about tank cleaning two more times (peas and RR or LL canola), not a lot of extra time required.

Expand your rotation for #plant15 if not now when? When I pencil out potential net returns on my farm malt barley, feed wheat, feed barley and peas all look better than canola. Fababeans are close behind and left in the dust is HRS wheat. I have to think that if wheat prices do not improve some acres have to switch to other crops.

Q: Specialty crops are growing in popularity. What are some things farmers need to consider when choosing whether or not to grow a specialty crop?

A: Do lots of research and don’t make rash decisions. Try small acres first. Over the years on our farm we have tried peas, winter wheat, fall rye and fababeans. All of them started out as 25 to 90 acres. Twitter is a great place to start asking questions.

Securing a market is paramount. You need a place to sell your crop to. End users, brokers and short line rail companies are places to start.

Q: Are you seeing any trends emerging for #Plant15? If so, what are they and what are your thoughts on them?

A: World Weather has a prediction that most of the Prairie’s will be warmer and drier than normal. Welcome news for some in wet areas, but not good news for many of us. Pay close attention to proper seeding depth and packing to ensure good emergence. Consider skipping that spring tillage pass to not further dry the soil out.

We farm mostly loam to sandy loam soils and we have always felt that given snow melt alone there is enough moisture to get a crop germinated, emerged and into June without additional rain. Quite often a good soaking rain in late May erases all the seeding mistakes we might have made, but we may not get that early rain this year.

If your crop does not get off to a good start it is tough to turn it around later. You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear.

Another trend is poor quality seed, poor germination rates and low vigor’s. I would urge farmers to get a vigor test done, especially this year. In the past on our farm we have seen germ and vigor levels roughly the same, which is a sign of good sound seed.

This year I have some barley for seed that is 91% germ and 66% vigor. What does this mean? Well if I plant barley late in May when the soil is already warmer than 10C I will likely see good even emergence, providing I don’t seed too deep. On the other hand if I seed in early May into cold soil (3-5C), I may only see 2/3 of the plants emerge at first, more will likely emerge later once the soil warms up giving me an uneven crop.

A warm dry spring may actually benefit poor quality seed. The warmer the soil the quicker the seed can germinate and emerge from the ground. However, we must be diligent in watching our seeding depth and not squander any of our soil moisture with excess tillage.

Q: What are some of the things farmers should be on the lookout for this growing season in terms of insects/diseases/weeds?

A: As far as insects go in Alberta we have the AB Insect Pest Monitoring Network. There are maps with 2015 forecasts for the various insects that threaten our crops. I believe there is similar information available in Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Clubroot in canola is the disease you need to be watching out for. A wake up call went out many years ago and high canola prices kept a lot of growers hitting the snooze button. Crop rotation beyond two years without canola is the only way this disease can be combatted. Clubroot resistant varieties can only assist a longer rotation. Real Agriculture has a very good podcast interview with Stephen Strelkov and Murray Hartman regarding management of clubroot.

Weed problems are largely due to crop rotation problems. We have a lot of group 2 resistant broadleaf weed problems on the Prairie’s. Group 1 resistant wild oats are also a major problem. You need to be proactive about rotating herbicides groups; you can’t wait until you have a wreck on your hands. The catch is the group 1 wild oat herbicides and the group 2 broadleaf herbicides are the cheapest options. Manufacturers have also re-named and bundled many herbicides, not for sake of farmer convenience, but rather to confuse them. Farmer’s need to understand, what herbicide groups they are using on their farm, then they will be able to make better decisions.

Q: Agronomists and Agrologists are there to help farmers maximize their returns, what are some of the things farmers should consider when choosing an agronomist/agrologist to work with?

A: A good agronomist will challenge their growers. I’m not referring to opening up the wallet and spending money on every product that looks like it has potential. Rather to challenge them to do things right agronomically, not just sell them something new. There are so many inputs into a crop that are not sold in a box or bag that need to be correctly done to ensure a crop gets a great start. Seeding at the proper depth, seeding at proper rates to get target plant populations, etc.

If the agronomist that you buy your canola seed from has never mentioned TKW and that 5 lbs/ac isn’t a high enough rate, then you should probably find a new agronomist.

I would even look at your fertilizer plan, past and present, as a report card of the quality of the advice you get. Are you still applying the same fertilizer rates you did 5 years ago? Do you soil test and if you don’t does your agronomist urge you to start soil testing? If you do soil test, do you just use one wheat blend and one rate for the whole farm? When you are seeding canola you want the two fertilizer tanks to run out at the same time for maximum acres per fill. Does your agronomist say this is too high of fertilizer rate to safely go with the seed, more needs to go sideband and don’t worry about max acres per fill?

In June and July where do you find your agronomist? Are they scouting fields for weeds, disease and insects or are they behind a desk? A good agronomist usually has dirty jeans.

About Scott Keller

Scott Keller is a Certified Crop Advisor who has worked in ag-retail prior to being a full time farmer. His family farm is located near New Norway in Central Alberta and they grow malt barley, canola and wheat; Fababeans and peas are new additions to their rotation. They have been zero-till for about 20 years and on a VR program for 5 years.

Have questions for Scott? Contact him!

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