Northern Ag Breakfast Meeting Minutes – April 21, 2021

The first Northern Ag Breakfast Meeting of the season was held April 21st at 8:30am Eastern time. For those in the westernmost regions of Ontario it’s 7:30am Central time, so we thank you for rising early to join us! There will be a total of 4 meetings this season, occurring every other Wednesday. On May 5th Mike Cowbrough, OMAFRA Weed Specialist, will join to discuss weed control topics.

Winter was mild across the north, and spring has come early. Growing Degree Days (GDD) are well advanced compared to average (see Table 1). While the opportunity to seed early is attractive it needs to be tempered with the implications of late spring frosts.

Table 1. Comparison of Growing Degree Days (GDD) accumulated this year vs the 9-year average




The meeting startied with a spring canola discussion led by Meghan Moran, OMAFRA Canola & Edible Bean Specialist. Some canola has been seeded in Wellington County, and after the meeting an update was shared that a couple hundred acres have been seeded in Temiskaming District. Some producers are shifting to Roundup Ready varieties to manage hard-to-control weeds.

Generally speaking, the greatest risks to spring canola are flea beetle, swede midge, clubroot and weather later in the season. Clubroot was not a focus of the discussion, but if producers want soil samples tested for presence of clubroot they should contact Weather risks later in the season include hot (above 29°C) and dry conditions during flowering causing flower and pod abortion (see Table 2). Other significant weather risks are rain and frost at the end of the season. Ideally, seeding should be completed by mid-May to mitigate these weather risks.

Table 2. Number of days in 2020 and 2019 with temperatures 29°C and above in four northern regions.

There are many weather and moisture factors that drive seeding date decisions. It is ideal to avoid frost conditions after canola emergence. Newly emerged plants at the cotyledon stage may be more susceptible to frosts than canola at the 3 or 4-leaf stage that has grown through cold temperatures and is hardened off, but it depends on how hard the frost event is. Canola on muck soils is typically at a greater risk of frost damage.

Canola can germinate at 2 or 3°C but growth is slow. Seeding at soil temperatures above 5°C should result in plants emerging within about a week and will reduce cold stress on the seedlings. We often promote early planting as a way to get the crop bolted early and avoid swede midge damage but seeding into warm conditions for fast growth early in the season may be a better approach. Slow growth from cold conditions, frost damage, wet soils and lack of fertility could increase risk of flea beetle feeding. Fast growing canola has better chance of outpacing the speed of feeding, and beyond the 4-leaf stage risk of flea beetle damage is typically low. Likewise, flea beetle damage can increase the risk of injury from swede midge because it slows crop growth and may reduce plant populations.

There is no clear answer on what planting dates result in the best yields; it depends on the weather. Participants from Thunder Bay shared that they have had good and poor yield results with seeding dates ranging from late April to mid-June, and a participant from Temiskaming District followed up after the meeting to say the same. Moisture at seeding and rain during seed fill are key factors. Data from Manitoba presented HERE suggests that yield is generally higher when canola is seeded in early May, and declines at a faster rate after the 3rd week of May.

Flea beetle overwinter as adults in leaf litter and soil. Flea beetle emergence peaks when temperatures are 14-15°C, with striped flea beetle usually emerging first. They are most active in sunny, warm conditions but once they emerge, they keep feeding even if it gets cool again. They survive well in cool, damp conditions but they may feed a little less or stick closer to the ground and feed on plant stems. More flea beetle info can be found HERE. Note that insecticide seed treatments are usually effective for 4 to 5 weeks after seeding (or rather, after seeds begin taking up moisture), so if it takes canola a long time to emerge it may impact the length of time seedlings are protected.

Winter Cereals

Joanna Follings, OMAFRA Cereal Specialist, provided an update and recommendations for cereal production. Prior to stem elongation, and depending on moisture, winter wheat may be tolerant to temperatures as low as -11°C. Moist soils can help mitigate injury from cold temperatures, and when soils are moist the temperature at plant crowns are often higher than the air temperature. When conditions warm in the coming days, any injury will be more evident. Fields where wheat is most advanced should be scouted first for injury. If winter wheat is beyond the jointing stage it can only tolerate temperatures around -4 or -5°C. Cold injury symptoms may include chlorosis, leaf tip burning and split stems, and a silage smell may be evident. Participants reported that winter wheat survival appears to be good. See THIS ARTICLE for more info on growth stages and management considerations.

In the Verner area, temperatures at the time of the meeting were -8°C and some wheat fields may be at growth stage 30. At these temperatures the wheat may have some cold injury, so it is best to wait for a few days of warmer weather before applying any crop inputs. In terms of the growth stage and calendar date, there is still time to apply herbicide, nitrogen and plant growth regulators when temperatures are warmer. Ideally, herbicide would be applied prior to growth stage 32 or second node, but many herbicide labels state they can be applied up to the flag leaf stage. Temperatures should be above 3°C for a couple days and forecasted to stay warm for herbicide application. If nitrogen is being applied first, delay herbicide application by 1 to 3 days after the nitrogen to allow weeds with leaf burn to recover and therefore improve the herbicide efficacy.

If producers are managing wheat with high rates of nitrogen, early seeding and/or using varieties prone to lodging, they might consider applying a plant growth regulator at growth stage 30 to 32 to manage lodging. Fungicide application to manage early season diseases such as septoria and powdery mildew is also beneficial where high rates of nitrogen are applied.

Winter barley is less tolerant to cold temperatures than winter wheat. Winter barley plots seeded the first week of September in Thunder Bay have survived winter but are still dormant. Dr. Sahota noted that in plots at the Lakehead University Agriculture Research Station winter barley has historically survived about half of the time. On Manitoulin Island there are plots of winter barley, winter triticale and winter wheat. These crops are intended for grain production, and results will be shared at later meetings. At this point the triticale looks best and barley the poorest, in terms of winter survival. Find more info on winter barley HERE.


Spring Cereals

Some spring cereal seeding has occurred, and a few fields are starting to emerge. In northern regions, spring cereals should be seeded by about May 10th. Generally, cereals require 80 GDDs for the seed to germinate and an additional 50 GDD to emerge for each inch of planting depth; cereals planted 1 inch deep require 130 GDD to emerge.

A producer asked what the nutrient losses would be on a field that had urea and potash broadcast on April 19th prior to cold temperatures and 2 cm of snowfall, and with rain in the forecast. The fertilizer was not incorporated and on Tuesday the urea was not visible on the soil surface. John Heard, Crop Nutrition Specialist with Manitoba Ag, said that producers in Manitoba have also been applying fertilizer ahead of some snowfall and hoping for moisture to move it into the soil. It likely has dissolved with the moisture from the snow but is sitting close to the soil surface. There may be some volatilization but because it is cold the losses are expected to be slight until temperatures are warmer. Conditions that contribute to volatilization are fertilizer surface applied to wet/damp soil, rainfall that just dampens the soil, warm temperatures and wind. With some rain, it will move into the soil profile. He added, now that the fertilizer is applied there isn’t much you can do about it anyway other than monitor the crop for deficiency and top up nitrogen if needed. In the future products like Agrotain can be used to mitigate losses.


Conditios and Updates by Region

Rainy River/Emo: The winter was mild, and spring came early. Some oats and wheat have been seeded, and fertilizer applied to pastures and hay. Currently, temperatures are cold, but they do not have snow and expect to be back on fields in a couple days. These field activities are a few weeks ahead of normal. Planting has not yet started at the  Ontario Crops Research Center in Emo. Winter wheat survival looks good, but they have a lot of deer feeding on the plots.

Thunder Bay: The winter was mild and there wasn’t much snow, but they had about 8 inches of snow last weekend and rain in the forecast for next week. They hope to be seeding in early May but typically there is a lot of rainfall at that time. Winter wheat, winter barley and alfalfa survival look good in the region at this point. Trials at the Lakehead University Agriculture Research Station include fungicides applied to spring cereals, Moddus and Manipulator plant growth regulators on winter wheat, and production of forage blends (grass mixtures and mixtures of grasses with alfalfa). They will also be evaluating MAP + MST (microionized sulphur technology from Nutrien, 9-43-0-16S) and SymptrxS10 (14-24-0-10S, from Mosaic) in canola.

Manitoulin Island: The winter was mild and there was very little snowfall overall. A key indicator of the arrival of spring is how fast the ice clears from the north channel, and this year it cleared by April 7th which is a bit earlier than average and one month ahead of last year. Wheat was left exposed through winter, but survival looks ok. Nitrogen has been applied to wheat and hay. Seeding has not yet begun but they hope to begin later this week.

Nipissing District: It is cold (-8°C) but currently there is no accumulated snow. Some cereals have been planted in the region. Winter wheat survival looks excellent, and alfalfa survival looks good, but it is still early for those assessments. Generally speaking, the Verner area is about a week ahead of Temiskaming, which is normal. Some trials happening in the region include starter phosphorous trials in canola, and Priaxor applications in alfalfa.

Temiskaming District: Conditions have been dry compared to past years. Spring cereal seeding has been ongoing, and some producers are done while larger acreage growers are just getting started. A few hundred acres of canola are in the ground. It is expected that soybean and canola acres will increase this year. Some participants noted that winter wheat is at growth stage 24. With current cold temperatures, the ground is frozen again.

At the Ontario Crops Research Station in New Liskeard, the tiling work is nearing completion and activity on the new research building is ramping up. Winter wheat trials are being conducted evaluating factors that impact lodging including planting depth, seeding rate, row width, nitrogen application timing and nitrogen rate, as well as use of a plant growth regulator. They are also conducting a multi-year cover crop trial, with 14 different crops/crop mixtures. Various variety performance trials will continue but may not be replicated in Verner because of restrictions related to COVID.

TECC Ag is trialing different remote sensing tools this year, including cameras in fields, soil probes and cameras on gimbles (rotates on 3 axis) mounted to 4-wheel rovers and dirt bikes. With 5G access, this is expected to assist with monitoring crops from greater distances, which is one of the logistical problems faced in the northern regions.

Cochrane District: The winter was mild, and snowfall was about half of normal for the region. There has been 2-3 weeks of decent weather, and conditions were dry now there is more moisture. It was -6°C last night with a dusting of snow. Other than a bit of discing, most producers have not been out doing field work yet, including applying nitrogen to wheat. It was noted that the area usually has 2100-2200 heat units, and one participant said he will plant some 2000 CHU corn as well as try some sorghum and different types of forages.