Image: a healthy wheat field near Cobourg, ON
Thank you to Nicole Beechey from BASF for sponsoring breakfast. The next meeting will be May 15th at 7:30 am. If there are any suggestions on how to improve the meeting, or topics to discuss if you cannot attend, please let Ian McDonald or Christine O’Reilly know.
The past two weeks have been wet with very little getting done in the fields. Growers in the region are waiting for the weather to break and fields to dry out enough to carry equipment. While it is wet, there is very little flooding or standing water in the region. Regular, significant rainfall events keep rolling through the region. Between the rains there is surface drying but not to the point where the fields can hold equipment. Minimal sun hours and low temperatures are not providing an opportunity for fields to dry. We need warm, breezy, sunny days to get this #plant19 season kick started across Ontario.
With the delayed start to the season there was discussion amongst the group of how the supply chain gets inputs out to all the planters and fields when the farmers are ready to go. There was discussion around farmers taking more responsibility for having fertilizer/seed storage on-farm so that they have their inputs readily available and are not dependent on the retailers to deliver to them during the busy season. This is particularly critical when everyone wants the same thing at the same time. The Ontario crop can all be planted within about 100 hours of workable field time. It’s finding those hours in seasons like this that become problematic; reducing or eliminating supply bottlenecks on farms can ensure growers can take advantage of those hours. More discussion must occur with growers on how the logistics is aligned for their farms.
For the most part, across the province 1/3 of the winter wheat crop has been deemed good, 1/3 bad and 1/3 requiring some tough decisions. The decisions continue to be worked out on these fields. Since the previous meeting, some nitrogen has been applied to fields that overwintered reasonably well. With the cool, wet conditions many fields have stalled in their growth, especially those planted late. Fields planted shallow may have looked alright two weeks ago, but heaved plants do not have adequate living root systems to support them based on the lack of growth that has been stalled by the weather and soil conditions. This is a real reminder that regardless of crop, you can’t skimp on planting depth. Shallow seeding seldom delivers. Some fields in the region had the worst wheat on knolls, which was a surprise to the group.
When assessing winter wheat fields, be sure to look across rows and dig up roots. The presence of green plants today doesn’t mean the plant will survive. Often looking along a row can be deceiving, as populations may not be as high as they appear. We tend to focus on the dead or poor patches and not observe the parts of the field that look good. Green plants that look fine from a distance might be weak, so proper scouting is very important. There are options for patching. The group was less than enthusiastic about spring wheat because class segregation in wheat is extremely important and blending poses problems at the elevator. Growers wanting to patch a winter wheat field should consider red clover, oats, or barley, although cereals seem to be in short supply. Cereal rye is another option. Long term, if problem areas of a field persist year to year they are likely causing lost profit and growers should consider retiring them. Today with the precision equipment available such options do exist. Crops like switchgrass are perennial and offer erosion control, soil building, hay, bedding, and biomass, and have low costs to maintain. In addition, growers can drive through switchgrass to do all the other operations for the annual crop in the remainder of the field.
While economics around bringing in straw from the prairies looks favourable right now, care needs to be taken to not introduce weeds from the west. Western Canada has identified herbicide resistance in weeds not currently problematic in Ontario such as Russian thistle and Kochia. There was talk that the Maritimes have extra straw and that should be a place to explore as there are likely less issues with weeds and other problems we don’t want from the west. The group is seeing a move to sand bedding increasing on diary operations which will impact straw demand over time.
Alfalfa stands across a wide area are in poor shape after a winter with several thaws, ice sheets and plenty of standing water this spring. Some fields have less than one live plant per square foot. The main concern is that growers may be unaware of how severe winter-kill is on their farms, because forage fields may not have been scouted or were scouted too early to see how severe the damage is. See Check Alfalfa Stands this Spring and Make a Plan for more information. 2018 seedings seem to have overwintered slightly better than established stands.
Alfalfa that is more than a year old is auto-toxic and cannot be patched with reseeding alfalfa as the seedlings will not germinate. Stands can be patched with red clover or grasses, though fields patched in 2019 will likely need to be terminated and rotated for 2020. Some producers are considering a short-season silage corn to feed out as green chop to stretch through until next corn harvest.
If opportunities exist for annual forages consider cereals or cereal/pea mixtures, Italian ryegrass, or sorghum-sudangrass. Growers in the Ottawa Valley are talking about using forage soybeans as an annual legume crop. There was quite a discussion about some of these alternatives. Many thought in the past so much focus was put on alfalfa that we haven’t put the effort into better managing these alternatives; with proper management they can deliver good yields and high field quality. On the soybean front, there was a comment that we have enough soybeans in Ontario and we should be looking at other options to diversify the forage protein in situations where alfalfa won’t persist or inventories are tight.
Pastures are off to a slow start. Even though there is virtually no feed in pastures yet, some livestock have already been turned out because winter feed is in short supply. With the wet conditions this poses a pugging/poaching risk, and the early grazing will reduce overall yield for the year. Conventional wisdom says for every day of grazing too early, a pasture loses three days’ worth of grazing in the fall.
Many growers have corn in storage from last year. Currently some buyers are still accepting 4 ppm DON corn for feed and even up to 8 ppm with discounts despite the normal level of tolerance being 2 ppm, but holding onto high-DON grain to blend out with the 2019 harvest may not be a good strategy as there is no guarantee that buyers will continue to accept corn above the normal 2 ppm threshold once this year’s harvest begins. Weigh your risks and be certain you know what you have in the bin. With spring breaking, corn in storage needs extra attention verses in the winter whether DON infected or clean. Warmer temperatures and changes in humidity based on bin surface warming with sunlight can result in problems. A lot of money is tied up in those bins, can you ensure you can hold that value through to the 2019 crop? Monitor those bins!
A few dry fields have been planted, but for the most part there is little progress on corn planting in the region. It is much too early to be switching hybrids; there is no benefit to changing to a short-season variety until after May 26th. While people are likely to ask, especially if this blasted weather continues, everyone should try and hold the course. Hybrid switching is problematic in so many ways and often staying the course ends up being the best hindsight decision. Seed company reps have worked hard to ensure that their customers have been realistic in the maturity of the hybrids that people are choosing. When you get to your fields and start cool and wet, work with your seed dealer to ensure you choose the right hybrids from your inventory for those first fields. There are vigor and soil type response differences in hybrids so make the right decisions.
There was discussion about the soil temperature needed for planting corn. This is a question whose answer depends on the date. If its mid to late April and soils are cold and date means we still are wary about continued cold temperatures this can be a concern. Now that we are into May and must assume warmer temperatures are coming, then soil temperature is not as big a concern. The important question is whether the ground is “fit” to be worked and planted. Planting too wet which will be the tendency as we run out of patience with the delayed start, is much more likely to cause a significant yield hit then cooler soil temperatures. As always, the goal is suitable soil conditions, uniform seeding depth, uniform population all resulting in uniform crop emergence which sets up the crop for highest yield potential.
Growers should be using both a burn-down and residual herbicide combination and ensuring that the residuals are of different modes of action where each is effective on the target weed (i.e. fleabane).
With the wet spring it will be tempting to skip burn-down and pre-emergence herbicide applications to get planting done quickly. In soybeans it is much harder to manage weeds (i.e. fleabane) after soybeans have emerged and almost impossible if they aren’t Xtend or Enlist varieties. In these cool, wet conditions we are more likely to see weeds like lambsquarters and ragweeds coming first but the rest will be there to germinate after the burn-down. Burn-downs are critical to getting control of winter biennials, perennials and that first flush of annual weeds but don’t control in season weeds. Weeds that emerge before or with the crop are those that rob the most yield.
While we concentrate on herbicide-resistant fleabane, we can’t lose focus on what the next threat might be. Currently that is waterhemp, which is a growing concern in the southwest and is spreading faster than anticipated. Be vigilant while scouting fields in Central Ontario; this is an emerging problem the sector needs to stay on top of. If something strange shows up in the field, get it identified.
Information on safe and effective pesticide application can be found at Sprayers101.com. Lots of great information here on making effective and safe use of the growth regulator soybean herbicide programs.
Valtra has received a new registration for seed production alfalfa. Control of seedling broadleaf weeds and suppression of foxtail. It is not effective on dandelions.
Cereal rye locally and elsewhere has been showing some suppressive effects on fleabane and although it requires more research and observation, it is encouraging.
Field walks to date are not finding as much emerged fleabane as what would be expected. This means that burn-down treatments will not be helping with the main flush and residual herbicides will be important to controlling this later flush fully expected to come.
In the East Central region Agricorp adjusters have been holding off on wheat fields hoping that the weather would turn around, giving the fields of concern some opportunity to show their potential. Bill Honey says they are now out checking fields based on claims received. As we have identified above, further east is worse, and fields that went in tough last fall continue to have trouble. In general, the late planted fields are not going to make it. In much of the East Central region wheat is about straw which makes the decision to keep or terminate a field tougher. Even with straw booked at a good price, its best is to terminate and move on to another crop option.
As of Wednesday, adjusters hadn’t been into hay fields yet, but they are starting to hear from producers. Word from those who have scouted fields is that frost line pinched the root, and it all went mushy.
The deadline to report acreage to Agricorp is June 30, however if growers finish before then they are encouraged to call in to avoid high call volumes. If growers think they will still have unseeded acres by June 30, they are encouraged to call Agricorp before June 15.
WeatherLink by Davis Instruments is a network of weather stations across Ontario. Information from these stations is available through the app or online. Setup your free account and pick the weather stations in your area to monitor.
CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network) is a network tracking precipitation across North America. Volunteer sites upload rainfall information daily and there are numerous local collaborators across Ontario.
An intake for producers is open until May 5th. Remember that the selection process is competitive, so applications will be compared against others to determine which projects receive funding. Applicants may be required to complete Environmental Farm Plan, crop and/or livestock farm biosecurity, or Growing Your Farm Profits workshops to be eligible for funding.
July 9th – Forage Expo West, Perth County SCIA, Listowel
July 11th – FarmSmart Expo, Elora Research Station
July 12th – Ontario Soil Network Tour/Frontenac SCIA, Forman Farms, Seeley Bay
July 16th – Forage Expo East, Victoria SCIA, Manilla
July 18th – Eastern Ontario Crop Diagnostic Day, Winchester Research Farm
August 8th – Compaction Day, Sheddon Fair Grounds
August 21st – Frontenac SCIA, car tour of apple production
August 29th – Compaction Day, Winchester
September ? – Ontario Soil Network Tour, Kaiser Lake Farms, Napanee