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J A N U A R Y 2 0 13 E D I T I O N
PLANNING THE NEXT CROP — AND BEYOND
THIS IS NOT A ROTATION THE EMERGING WHEAT/CANOLA SYSTEM HAS SOME HIDDEN COSTS. PG 11 DOES LIVESTOCK BELONG IN CROP ROTATIONS? PG 14
ALSO IN THIS ISSUE CUT YOUR FUEL COSTS WITH BETTER TRACTOR MAINTENANCE GET MORE FROM YOUR AGRONOMIST
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PROVING GROUND. TM
Canola hybrid with built-in Pioneer Protector Sclerotinia Resistance trait and rated R for Blackleg. ®
42.2 bu/ac 41.1 bu/ac
1.1 bu/ac increase
Dekalb 73-75 (RR)
59% % WINS
Proving Ground Comparisons
High yielding canola hybrid with a built-in Pioneer Protector® Clubroot Resistance trait.
38.5 bu/ac 35.7 bu/ac
2.8 bu/ac increase
Dekalb 74-44 BL
77% % WINS
Proving Ground Comparisons
Better seed in so many weighs. Farming is large-scale, and at DuPont Pioneer, we think seed trials should reflect real farming. That’s why each year we test our seed products in over 1500 large-scale Proving Ground™ trials of canola, corn and soybeans across Western Canada. And why our goal is to test our Pioneer® brand products on your farm under your field conditions to find the right product for the right acre. Ask your Pioneer Hi-Bred sales rep about Proving Ground trial results in your area.
www.pioneer.com/yield Canola yield data summary averaged across 3 years (2010-2012). Yield data collected from large-scale, grower managed Proving Ground trials across Western Canada as of November 30th, 2012. Product responses are variable and subject to any number of environmental, disease and pest pressures. Individual results may vary. Multi-year and multi-location data is a better predictor of future performance. Refer to www.pioneer.com/yield or contact a Pioneer Hi-Bred sales representative for the latest and complete listing of traits and scores for each Pioneer® brand product. Roundup Ready is a registered trademark used under license from the Monsanto Company. Dekalb is a registered trademark of Monsanto Technology LLC. Pioneer® brand products are provided subject to the terms and conditions of purchase which are part of the labeling and purchase documents. The DuPont Oval Logo is a registered trademark of DuPont. ®, TM, SM Trademarks and service marks licensed to Pioneer Hi-Bred Limited. © 2012, PHL. PR273_PG_Yield Ad_AE_v4
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12-12-13 11:41 AM
ditor’s note 4 EThe Information Age is just truly
In the bag
Making a new mycotoxin-testing system cheap and easy will be the key to success.
Focus on: Sustainability
Up your agronomy game
hort sighted S Wheat and canola just isn’t a rotation, any way you slice it.
Beef & barley
beginning to dawn for farms.
All the latest from the grain industry.
Some basic tractor maintenance can go a long way towards lowering fuel bills.
More than 1,000 words
A look at a modern high- capacity grain elevator.
What’s hot and what’s not for 2013 seeding intentions?
CoVER Photo: DAVE REEDE
Producer car loadings have held up better than expected in the first year of the new open market. Grain-bagging systems give growers greater flexibility and in some cases serious savings.
A list of questions to ask your professional agronomist.
New products aim to get micronutrients to seedlings early.
Mixed farms are largely a thing of the past — but one stockgrower gets into the grain game.
PL A N NIN G T HE NE X T CRO P — A ND BE YO ND
hen you consider modern retail operations like Walmart, they really are a marvel. Most of us only see the retail stores, the very end of the supply chains, but consider for just a moment the complexity present behind that cherry facade. Walmart keeps its prices low by keeping its costs low and perhaps the single most important ingredient in that recipe is its just-in-time supply chain. When I go to my local Walmart in Winnipeg and buy a pen, the cashier swipes that pen through the scanner. It transmits this information to the Calgary distribution centre, and when the inventory of pens drops low enough, another batch of pens is placed in that store’s next shipment. At the same time that centre is monitoring inventory use and ordering more supplies. When it’s all working right, a shipping container from China comes to the front of the distribution centre, is unloaded into semis that go out the back, and nothing ever truly stops. It’s this system that makes Walmart the largest — and most copied — retailer in the world. Before this system could emerge a number of technological advances had to happen more or less concurrently. First the bar code system, based on Morse code, had to be developed, allowing for the encoding of complicated information on each product. At the same time laser scanners were necessary to bring the whole thing out of the realm of the theoretical and into the practical. Then computing power and telecommunications had to evolve to allow every store to be linked and inventory tracked. In
the end Walmart actually wound up launching its own satellite. No arguing with the results though — it’s basically been the equivalent of a bomb going off in the retail sector. The companies that cottoned on to what opportunities this new era represented were the most successful and the businesses that have disappeared have largely been the unsophisticated mom and pop operations. This case study has some very real implications for farms. Computers are nothing new on farms. Many operations have had them since sometime in the 1980s, when they proved to be a definite improvement on the old ledger books for record-keeping. But if you think about them one key component the rest of the world took for granted was missing — you couldn’t take this newly found power into your actual workplace. It would be like telling Walmart it could have its sophisticated system, but not operate it in stores, only in a panel van in the parking lot. Over the past couple of years, you’ve begun to see things gelling to bring the power of this sort of technology out to the farm, mainly in the form of your phone, which of course isn’t really a phone. It’s a sophisticated hand-held miniature computer that you happen to be able to make a telephone call on, which also happens to be linked to a data network that allows the instantaneous transmission of all information it gathers. It will take a real visionary — someone far smarter than I — to harness this power and build a system that makes farms more efficient and productive. But I’m willing to bet, somewhere, on a farm in Western Canada, the agricultural equivalent of Sam Walton is turning his or her mind to the job right now. ■
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CROPS GUIDE is printed with linseed oil-based inks. PRINTED IN CANADA Vol. 02 No. 01 website: www.agcanada.com The editors and journalists who write, contribute and provide opinions to CROPS GUIDE and Farm Business Communications attempt to provide accurate and useful opinions, information and analysis. However, the editors, journalists, CROPS GUIDE and Farm Business Communications, cannot and do not guarantee the accuracy of the information contained in this publication and the editors as well as CROPS GUIDE and Farm Business Communications assume no responsibility for any actions or decisions taken by any reader for this publication based on any and all information provided.
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Industry Notes Linola headed for deregistration
Grain farmers hail rail legislation
An identity-preserved oilseed, highly touted in the 1990s for its possible use in low-trans-fat margarines and other foods, is about to lose its official grain status. Canada Western Solin — a low-linolenic type of yellow flaxseed promoted under the trade name Linola — will be pulled from the federally-regulated roster of official grains of Canada on Aug. 1 next year, the Canadian Grain Commission said in mid-December. Linola became an “official” grain in 1995 and was grown, marketed and handled under contract through United Grain Growers (which later merged into Agricore United, then into Viterra). UGG developed Linola in a joint-venture partnership with Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO). Winnipeg-based UGG had bought the Linola development program in 1992 from Biotechnica Canada, CSIRO’s original j.v. partner. The crop produced oil with significantly low levels of alpha-linolenic acid, an omega-3 fatty acid. Given its oil’s similarities to sunflower oil, Linola saw significant interest from growers and end-users when it was introduced in 1994. However, Linola acreage eventually tapered off due to “increased volatility” in edible oilseed markets, Agricore United said in 2002. AU would promote the crop again that year when sunflower oil was in short supply, urging growers to lock in prices early as it expected the crop to again provide higher profits, above those of flax or canola. Ultimately, however, the crop “has not been in production for approximately five years, and there are no intentions of introducing it back into the market,” the CGC said in its announcement. Furthermore, the CGC said, solin seeds are visually indistinguishable from those of new yellow varieties of CW Flaxseed, which have higher levels of alpha-linolenic acid — 60 per cent or more, compared to three per cent or lower in linola — and are grown for health food markets. Cancelling the registration of solin will make registering new varieties of yellow flaxseed easier and faster, the CGC said, because flax breeders will then be able to follow the “regular” registration process. Solin breeders have already formally asked that the registration of their solin varieties with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency be cancelled. Come Aug. 1, there will no longer be a grade schedule nor quality standards for solin, nor the right for growers to request subject to inspector’s grade and dockage on any deliveries. Nor would any deliveries of solin be covered under the CGC’s payment protection program. “There could be a few farmers in Western Canada who still have solin in their bins. If they are keeping it for delivery, they should contact Viterra as soon as possible, prior to Aug. 1,” CGC chief commissioner Elwin Hermanson. Any solin deliveries made after that date can’t be declared as CW Flaxseed, he said. Listed varieties of CW Solin include CDC Gold, 1084, 2047, 2090, 2126 and 2149.
Prairie crop growers relying on the rails to get their wares past Canada’s geography are hailing recently tabled federal legislation which, if needed, would enforce levels of service between rail freight shippers and railways. Bill C-52, the Fair Rail Freight Service Act, would give companies shipping goods by rail the right to set up a service agreement with railways, and provide for an arbitration process to set up such an agreement where commercial negotiations can’t. Farmers and processors “must be able to get their worldclass product to market in a reliable and efficient way,” federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said. “This bill is good news for Canada’s farmers as it will help ensure all shippers are treated fairly by the railroads.” The new process “will create a strong incentive for shippers and railways to negotiate service agreements commercially,” the government said in a media release. “If these negotiations are not successful, shippers will be able to trigger a fast and efficient arbitration process with the Canadian Transportation Agency.” To start the process rolling, a shipper must request a service contract from a railway company, which then must respond within 30 days. If negotiations don’t produce a deal, a shipper would have to satisfy the CTA that an “attempt was made” at a resolution with the railway. That arbitration process, the government said, will be “interestbased” — as opposed to “final offer” — with a 45-day timeline, subject to a 20-day extension where an arbitrator deems it necessary. An arbitrator’s decision would be binding and non-appealable, and the resulting contract would be “akin to a confidential contract” and would run for at least a one-year term unless both parties agree to a longer time span. Where federal transport legislation today requires that decisions from an arbitrator be “commercially fair and reasonable to both shippers and railways,” the new provision provides “guidance” for the arbitrator to consider both the shipper’s transportation needs to maintain and grow its business, and the railway’s need to operate an efficient network for the benefit of all users. An arbitrator would also consider the “specific circumstances” of the situation, including any voluntary commitments a shipper makes to a railway. Once an arbitrated service agreement is in place, the CTA may respond to violations with an administrative monetary penalty of up to $100,000 per violation, on top of “other existing remedies” such as a level-of-service complaint, to “ensure railways meet their service obligations.”
Yellow flaxseed’s growing popularity is leading to the delisting of Linola varieties which have been long dormant.
“We hope.” Where farmer groups have been largely enthusiastic on the announcement, the Western Grain Elevator Association, which represents the Prairies’ mainline grain handlers, veered toward more caution in its optimism. “We hope the legislation will be effective in providing service accountability. The effectiveness will become known as service level agreements (SLAs) are finalized and put into effect,” WGEA executive director Wade Sobkowich said. However, the association said it’s particularly encouraged that the federal government recognizes “long-lasting improvements to rail service cannot occur without a change to the policy environment that allowed poor service to occur in the first place.” “Without a legislative backstop, it is nearly impossible for even the largest shippers to negotiate service agreements that
Continued on page 6 CROPS GUIDE
Continued from page 5 reflect what would happen in a competitive marketplace,” Sobkowich said. That said, arbitrators will need to be knowledgeable of issues affecting the grain handling industry to make sure the agreements are effective, he added. The National Farmers Union described C-52 as a “small step” and warned of pitfalls. “With each shipper negotiating individually with essentially two oligopolistic railways in a confidential contract, how much power will the shipper really have?” NFU president Terry Boehm said. “We were glad to see in this bill, the right to a service level agreement, an arbitration process when negotiations fail, and consequences for railways when they don’t live up to their obligations,” Richard Phillips, executive director of the Grain Growers of Canada, said in a separate release. “These components, in our view, are an important part of this legislation being effective and enforceable.” “Canadian businesses and their industry organizations put a great deal of work into the recommendations on this legislation,” Greg Cherewyk, executive director of Pulse Canada, said in that group’s release. “While its premise is straightforward, it’s a complicated matter and it’ll take some time to review and consider the implications of the package the government put forward today.” That said, “it is important to acknowledge how significant today is — this is a process of continuous improvement and every step taken in that direction is critical,” Cherewyk added. Canadian National Railway (CN) CEO Claude Mongeau warned C-52 will send “mixed signals to customers and suppliers around the world about the government’s approach to commercial markets in Canada.” “Putting aside normal operational and commercial issues, there is no evidence of systemic rail service performance problems in Canada” to warrant such a bill, the company said. Montreal-based CN “invites the government to identify specific, systemic service issues that warrant this legislation,” Mongeau added. “We are ready to address any legitimate problems brought to our attention.” Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) reiterated its belief that “commercial undertakings, coupled with a stable regulatory regime, (are) the best approach to promote supply chain co-ordination and investment.” CP CEO Hunter Harrison said the Calgary company has already been acting on recommendations such as a service agreement template and a commercial dispute resolution process. “As such, we are confident strong commercial relationships will continue to emerge with little need for the processes described in the legislation.” CP recently announced a four-year plan that will see jobs cut, rail sidings lengthened and the head office relocated out of the city’s downtown, among other reorganizations under Harrison, CN’s recently retired CEO. 6
Record-high soybean crop forging path to China The reuters newswire reports Canadian soybeans are forging a path to China, the world’s top buyer, as Canada’s relatively small production creeps across the country’s western growing belt and establishes a modest niche in global trade in the crop. To t a l C a n a d i a n s o y b e a n e x p o r t s amounted to 868,300 tonnes from August through October — the first three months of the 2012-13 crop year — more than double the pace of a year earlier, according to Canadian Grain Commission data. Of that total, China accounted for nearly two-thirds of Canada’s export sales, or about 538,000 tonnes in three months. It bought just 166,000 tonnes from Canada in 2011-12. “I don’t think it’s a blip, I think it’s probably going to be a trend,” said analyst Jonathon Driedger of FarmLink Marketing Solutions in Winnipeg. “Is that number going to grow? I think that’s going to be limited by how much we can crank up soybean production.” Canadian soybean production reached a record 4.9 million tonnes in 2012-13, Statistics Canada said. That’s puny compared with the crops in the United States and South America. But with drought curbing soybean production in the U.S., the world’s biggest soybean source, to the lowest level in four years this year, some importers are looking for sources to top up supplies until South American harvests are available early in the new year. Canada also harvested a record high 13.1 million tonnes of corn this year as farmers cashed in on high prices of both soybeans and corn that were due to the severe drought in the U.S. Midwest. Canada is more closely associated with canola, a rapeseed variant whose name incorporates the country of its origin. Both canola and soybeans are oilseeds, but canola plantings have soared in Western Canada due to strong returns for farmers, while soybeans have remained a small crop, limited by their longer growing season. But farmers in Manitoba have become more comfortable growing soybeans, which adds the nutrient nitrogen to the soil, making it a valuable rotation with cereal grains. Plantings hit a record 800,000 acres in the flood-prone province, and are likely to hit one million acres next year, said Dennis Lange, a crops adviser with the Manitoba agriculture department at Altona. Canada’s biggest soy supplies continue to come from Ontario. “We’ve gone through a number of wet seasons in Manitoba and the soybeans have
seemed to come through those very well,” Lange said, adding that shorter-season varieties have also made the crop’s western expansion possible. Canola is the main crop being displaced by the growing popularity of soybeans in Western Canada. Canola plantings have hit a record high six years in a row, but some expect farmers to taper back this spring after hot, dry midsummer weather resulted in harvest disappointment. The crop could eventually spread to significant numbers of acres in Saskatchewan and Alberta, Lange said, limited mainly by drier conditions in some areas of those provinces. Some farmers will also continue to be wary of the risk from Canada’s cold climate. The first significant freezing temperatures in Western Canada typically occur by midSeptember, when May-planted soybeans are still being harvested. Canadian trade patterns are subtly shifting to reflect soybeans’ popularity. Exporters shipped more than 116,000 tonnes of soybeans through Canada’s Port Metro Vancouver in October, a rare export shipment of the crop directly from the country’s West Coast, rather than through U.S. channels. “To physically load train cars and move it out of Vancouver is not something we’ve seen too often with soybeans,” said Neil Townsend, director of market research at grain marketer CWB. “It does represent the fact that more and more acreage in (Manitoba’s) Red River Valley is going into soybeans. In a year like this when the soybeans had a pretty good finish to them and the yield was high, there is an excess supply of soybeans in Western Canada that needs an export outlet.” Soybean exports via the West Coast have increased steadily to 148,000 in 2011-12 from zero just four years earlier. The United States’ soybean production of nearly 81 million tonnes in 2012-13 is neck and neck with Brazil for the world’s largest output.
Give us your input If you have a milestone you feel should be noted in our regular Gleanings column, please send the information, along with an electronic photo of any individual noted in the item, to Crops Guide editor Gord Gilmour at:
I T ’ S T H E S TA T E O F M I N D T H AT C O M E S W I T H G E T T I N G A N EXTRA 3 TO 4 BUSHELS OF CANOLA AN ACRE.
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12-12-10 4:40 PM
producer car loadings surprisingly strong BY richard kamchen
roducer car shipments are far greater than anyone last year would have expected them to be in the new open wheat market, and much of that can be attributed to the CWB. CWB crops moved via producer car have been wheat, durum and canola. “We’re big supporters of producer cars and from what we understand so far, we’re still shipping the vast majority of producer car shipments this year,” says Gord Flaten, CWB’s vice-president of grain procurement. The CWB intends to continue providing farmers the option to ship producer cars. “And even though there are some producer cars that are likely to be shipped to non-CWB companies, it’s our belief that because we’re doing the vast majority of the producer car shipments, having the CWB involved in the system is really keeping that option alive.” But the CWB’s downsizing will most likely cut its producer car usage from previous single-desk levels. Going from 100 per cent market share to a fraction of that will translate into reduced producer car business, although it won’t necessarily drop by the same proportion, Flaten says.
Photo credit: CWB
“ We’re big supporters of producer cars and from what we understand so far, we’re still shipping the vast majority of producer car shipments this year ” — Gord Flaten, CWB
“What that means for overall numbers of producer car shipments, it depends on how many non-CWB producer car shipments there end up being by the end of the year,” says Flaten. “Our understanding is we’re still doing the vast majority, so that would imply the total numbers would be down, but it’s still early in the year.” In spite of expected reduced CWB producer car numbers, overall business has been strong, and in some cases, little changed or even better than last year. 8 CROPS GUIDE
For week 19 (Dec. 2-8), producer car allocations reached 3,538 cars, down from 4,106 for the same period a year ago, according to the Canadian Grain Commission. Broken down, wheat reached 1,186 cars (versus 2,246 last year); durum 1,544 (1,427); oats 406 (281); barley (mostly malt) 144 (147); and all others (peas, canola, lentils) 258 (5). Quarterly, out of 2,053 cars, 1,081 went to Thunder Bay, 303 to Vancouver, 229 to Prince Rupert, and 440 to other destinations, which could be domestic or U.S. “Mission Terminal is one important destination, but we’re doing business through a few different shippers and through a few different terminals, including on the west coast,” Flaten says, adding Churchill is a theoretical possibility once its shipping season opens in July. None reached the northern port earlier in the new crop year. Mission Terminal by the end of November handled/ ordered a similar number of producer cars as it did last year, says its president and CEO, Adrian Measner. “We’ve been pleased with the amount of producer cars that we’ve been able to sign up. It exceeded our expectations.” While the CWB is by far the largest handler of those producer cars, other companies, including Mission Terminal, are also buying and shipping producer cars, he says. “The predominant commodities are wheat and durum, however peas and canola are also part of the picture,” says Measner. He expects a tailing off in the second half of the crop year, predicting Mission Terminal to handle between twothirds and 80 per cent of the producer cars it did last year. “There’s been really good movement in the fall, and we’re just assuming there won’t be quite as strong a movement. But that might not be the case,” Measner adds. The unknown is just how many non-CWB loadings there’ll be on the Prairies. Tim Coulter, president of the Producer Car Shippers of Canada, says companies no one’s heard of have been taking grain from his local point in Briercrest, Saskatchewan: “A couple of the companies that are in here buying grain are ones that have no facilities.” Greater activity from small domestic elevators and new entrants from the U.S. comes as little surprise to observers. “We expected this shift from producer cars to dealer cars,” says Mark Hemmes, president of Canada’s grain handling and transportation monitor, Quorum Corporation. Numerous players from the U.S. without facilities have arrived to Canada’s open market and obtained dealer licences through the CGC so they can trade grain. “They just don’t have a place to load it, so we thought there is a big opportunity for people who’ve got wayside storage and loading facilities like West Central. and that’s happening… and that will probably grow.” Roger Gadd scoffed last year about talk short lines would be doomed by the elimination of the CWB’s single desk. The general manager of Great Western Railway, Saskatchewan’s longest short line and handler of the most producer loading sites in Canada, has been proven right so far. “There’s a lot of competition out there now. We certainly haven’t lost any business. I don’t know if I can say if it’s increased, but we certainly haven’t lost any,” Gadd says.
The bulk of producer car volume is coming from short lines, although some auger loadings are continuing. “The advantage we have with the [loading] facilities on the line is they can clean the grain,” notes Coulter. “So a lot of those cars are shipped clean, and farmers are paid for the dockage. There’s quite a demand for dockage because of the droughts in different areas. I can ship a car to Thunder Bay uncleaned and I’m docked for the dockage, but cleaned locally, we’re actually being paid a pretty good price for that dockage, and then the car is shipped clean and then unloaded as No. 1 clean.” Coulter advises that farmers taking advantage of producer cars obtain guaranteed grade before their crop is shipped. The danger in not doing so is getting a lower grade than expected when the car is unloaded at a terminal. “We had one case where the guy thought he had shipped No. 2 and it came back 3. Not a significant loss,
but definitely a loss, especially when you’re expecting to ship No. 2. And that was shipped without a guarantee,” Coulter says. He’s enthused about the continued use of producer cars, calling it good news for farmers. “We definitely don’t want to lose it. Hundreds of thousands of dollars a year are saved by producers loading their own cars,” he says. “We’re picking up new customers loading their first producer cars, and it’s a good signal. It tells me that guys are still supporting it, that it’s a good option.” Blair Rutter, executive director of the Western Canadian Wheat Growers Association, says his group is also pleased about the continued usage of producer cars, but believesB:10.5” that over time, usage will decline. “Except T:10”there is an opportunity for IP shipments,” Rutter adds. “It’s certainly still valuable to have them, and some S:8” farmers will continue to see a marketing advantage. n
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In The BAG BY gord leathers
arms in Western Canada keep getting bigger and so also do the sheer volumes of commodities handled on farm during harvest. Filling grain bins can create a logistical bottleneck when time is short and grain volumes are large, to say nothing about the perennial challenge of heavy crops outstripping available storage. Saskatchewan farmer Reed Andrew says it’s caused growers to search for new solutions like grain bagging. He uses a system from Loftness Grainlogix of Hector, Minnesota. “It’s a nine-millimetre-thick plastic bag that comes in different lengths from 150 to 300 feet if you want,” says Andrew. “It’s temporary storage that we can leave out in the field where it’s most convenient.” It’s true, nothing beats a permanent bin for long-term storage. Aerated circulation keeps the crop dry and the seeds dormant while a steel shell keeps out the various invaders that will spoil a crop. But on the other hand, that permanence may also work against the farmer. Trips from the harvest field can eat valuable time and fuel as trucks shuttle grain from combine or cart to the farmyard. A bumper crop, or an extra harvest off a rented section, may produce too much grain for limited on-farm capacity. Putting up new bins is expensive but piling grain outside, exposed to the elements is a great way to lose both quantity and quality. Farmers may need a flexible short-term option and manufacturers like Loftness say they have a workable solution with those large plastic bags. “The advantage of the plastic bag is that it was designed to store dry grain for short duration,” says Dr. Digvir Jayas of the University of Manitoba. “So if you have a bumper harvest and you don’t have enough storage, it’s very quick to set up a plastic bag and, if you follow the recommendations, then I think the plastic bags work fine.” The bag folds into a neat ring that fits around a two-wheeled hopper. The hopper is hitched to a small tractor and it takes power from the PTO to drive an auger. The auger feeds grain into the bag as the hopper moves slowly forward. As more grain is pushed into the bag it gets longer and, once it’s filled, it resembles a huge, white caterpillar. 10 CROPS GUIDE
“A 250-foot bag will hold around 12,000 bushels,” Andrew says. “Your cost per bag is about 6-1/2 cents per bushel and your bagging equipment, if you’re renting, costs you another 14 cents a bushel or so. Your temporary storage is costing you about 20 cents.” “Another advantage comes if you are growing many different types of grains,” Jayas added. “You might have high-oil canola versus low-oil canola and you might want to keep them separate. It gives you a lot of flexibility.” It’s easy to fill and it doesn’t require too much extra labour. You can pull a cart or a combine up beside it and dump the grain right into it. One bagger can keep up with three combines working the same section and the grain is safely stored for up to 10 months. “And the biggest plus is that you can have it where you want it,” Andrew says. “If you have land far away from home you don’t have to truck the grain a long way because you can bag it right there in the field.” The ground should be as level as possible and well drained. It’s still plastic and it may be susceptible to punctures so there shouldn’t be any sharp objects around it. It could also be vulnerable to some animals such as rodents, deer or birds. “But the major disadvantage is farmers pushing the limit,” Jayas says. “The problem with the plastic bag is once you put the grain inside the plastic bag you can’t aerate and dry the grain. There’s a time limit on what you can store, so if they start putting in very high-moisture grain you can have spoilage issues.” That time limit seems to be around 10 months with relatively dry crops, under 10 per cent moisture. If the crops are tougher than that, the storage time should be shorter. You may want to be unloading the bag before the ground thaws. Unloading is done with another machine that also runs off the PTO shaft. The bag is split and fed onto a small roller and, as the machine backs up, it pushes an auger into the grain. The bag is rolled up as the auger feeds the grain into a truck or a cart. The bag can be recycled afterward. “It’s called an extractor,” Andrew explained. “It’s very quick to pick up and you can load a B train in 14 minutes or so. The bags are a great tool and it’s great for placement on land where you don’t have a long-term lease or land that you rent but don’t have any storage on. For all that, bags may become more popular.” n
focus on sustainability
Short sighted There’s a powerful short-term economic incentive to move to two-crop “rotations” which may be expensive in the end BY ron friesen
sk Martin Entz what he thinks about the agricultural system in Western Canada and he’ll give you an earful. It isn’t all complimentary, either. As far as Entz is concerned, the trend toward a two-crop rotation — often wheat and canola — is deeply troubling. Even more concerning to him is that short-term economics, supported by agricultural policies, encourage that trend.
As long as we have this sort of underpinning financial support of the frailer system, it’s going to be impossible to move farmers off that.
— Martin Entz, University of Manitoba
Widespread spring flooding across the West in 2010, which left millions of acres of annual cropland unseeded, proved his point, says Entz, a professor of plant science at the University of Manitoba. “The entire institutional arrangement is set up for these very frail two-crop rotations. And whenever there’s a failure in them, like in 2010, when people couldn’t seed their crops, they were still harvesting forage crops. The right adapted ones could withstand the flooding. The canola couldn’t.” And what happened as a result? The government wrote subsidy cheques for flooded farmers, reinforcing a system that’s ultimately unsustainable, Entz says.
“As long as we have this sort of underpinning financial support of the frailer system, it’s going to be impossible to move farmers off that.” Entz’s solution? “Stop promoting monoculture agriculture. Start promoting diversified agriculture.” For over 15 years, Entz has been preaching the gospel of crop diversification to anyone who will listen. Now, a groundbreaking new research study out of Iowa may give impetus to his urgings. The study, partly sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and conducted at Iowa State University, concludes that longer crop rotations are better and more sustainable than shorter ones. The study is almost breathtakingly simple in its design. Beginning in 2003, researchers traced the results of different crop rotations on three plots totalling 22 acres at Marsden Farm, the university’s experimental station. The first plot contained a two-year corn-soybean rotation, typical of U.S. Midwestern cropping patterns. It employed standard chemical applications. The second plot rotated over three years between corn, soybeans and oats. It added red clover planted in winter and incorporated as green manure in spring. The third plot, a four-year rotation, added alfalfa to the mix and returned livestock manure to the soil as fertilizer. Researchers describe the results as eye opening. The longer rotations produced similar or better yields than the short ones while sharply reducing herbicide and fertilizer use. Weeds were less of a problem. Longer rotations also greatly reduced groundwater toxicity because of fewer chemicals used. In short, the Marsden Farm experiment demonstrated that longer crop rotations reduce chemical applications and benefit the environment without lowering farmers’ profits. “Results of our study indicate that more diverse cropping systems can use small amounts of synthetic agricultural inputs as powerful tools with which to tune, rather than drive, agro-ecosystem performance while meeting or exceeding the performance of less diverse systems,” the paper, published last October in the online scientific journal PLOS One, concludes in its abstract. Granted, Western Canada is not Iowa. Producers do not grow corn and soybeans in rotation, except perhaps in parts of Manitoba’s Red River Valley. But scientists believe the lessons learned at Marsden Farm also apply to Prairie agriculture because two-crop rotations are becoming dominant here, too. “We’re seeing more farmers adopt a canola-wheat rotation, which may be analogous to the corn-soybean rotation in Iowa,” says Steve Shirtliffe, a plant science professor at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon. “In other crops, like lentils and other pulse crops, we’re seeing them being confined to smaller regions, rather than to larger regions, and grown continuously.
Continued on page 12 CROPS GUIDE
JANUARY 2013 11
FOCUS ON SUSTAINABILITY
Continued from page 11 “Unfortunately, I think we’ve gone away from our more diversified roots in Western Canada.” Entz says test plots at the U of M’s Glenlea agricultural research station south of Winnipeg show long rotations require fewer inputs, just as the Marsden Farm experiment demonstrated. At Glenlea, conventionally managed long-term rotations have significantly reduced the need for herbicides. Researchers seldom apply chemical products to control wild oats, one of the major weeds on the Prairies. Asked what a sustainable farm would look like, Entz, whose research specialty is organic agriculture, says diversity is the key. “It would have much more diversity than most of our current farms. That would be mostly plant diversity, perhaps some landscape diversity and livestock diversity, either on the farm or in the region.” On paper, it seems a no-brainer. Longer rotations decrease the need for chemicals, reduce energy costs, improve soil and water quality, and produce equal or better yields with stable profits. There’s no apparent downside. Researchers involved with the study call it an example of working with nature instead
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of against it. By extending crop rotations, integrating livestock and using other nonchemical methods, they enabled natural forces to work for them. Better still, the Marsden Farm model provides a compromise between two extremes dominating the agricultural debate: conventional farming with inputs and organic production without them. Marsden Farm appears to offer the best of both worlds. It does not ban chemicals but uses them, as the paper says, to fine-tune the system rather than drive it. So why aren’t more farmers doing that? The problem, as usual, is economics. Neil Harker, an Agriculture and AgriFood Canada plant scientist at Lacombe, Alberta, notes that when lower-value crops such as oats are inserted into the rotation, revenues are lower than for higher-value crops. In other words, you may not be losing money but you’re not making as much as you could. “If you grow oats and alfalfa, you’re not making as much in those years as you would have if you had stayed in corn,” says Harker. “You have to take a very long-term view and, if you’re in financial straits, it’s hard to take a long-term view.” Harker says farmers haven’t seen commodity prices this strong since the 1970s and need to take advantage of them before
the boom ends and prices fall, as market cycles have always done before. In the meantime, all crop specialists can do is point to the benefits of long-term rotations and leave their adaptation up to farmers. “We have to keep giving them that option and, when they’re more able to take a longterm view, they will make that decision,” says Harker. “Long-term rotations are more sustainable. Who knows when we can get individuals farmers to take that view? Some do already. Many don’t,” he says. “Adoption will be interesting to watch. It’s hard to say when we’ll get to that point.” That point could be closer than we think. A recent documentary by American filmmaker Ken Burns graphically demonstrates how intensive tillage and continuous cropping produced one of the greatest natural disasters in North American history — the Dust Bowl of the 1930s. Aired on the PBS television network in November, the riveting four-hour program showed how plowing fragile land, combined with crippling drought, nearly destroyed agriculture on the Western Plains. Farmers were practically inviting the soil to blow away. Scientists believe a return to conditions such as those in the Dirty Thirties is unlikely, thanks to soil conservation, zero-till and mod-
ern cultivation equipment. But another spectre, also the result of intensive farming practices, is beginning to raise its head: herbicide resistance. Some fear it, too, could eventually prove a tipping point for agriculture in Western Canada. The big concern is glyphosate resistance. Already established in parts of the U.S. and Australia, the phenomenon is now appearing in Western Canada. A year ago, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada weed scientists confirmed the existence of glyphosate-resistant kochia in southern Alberta. It is the first case of a glyphosate resistant weed in Western Canada. Some fear kochia is the canary in the coal mine and a harbinger of worse to come. “This is the most important herbicide in history and we’ve been pushing it so hard, we’re now getting resistance to it,” says Harker. “It’s not going to take down agriculture like the Dust Bowl. But if all these things come together, we could get glyphosate resistance to several major weeds. What if, when it comes to wild oats, on which we spend $500 million annually alone, it becomes resistant? That’s going to change the economics.” Entz believes Western Canada came close to the tipping point in 1994 with the appearance of Group One herbicide resistance to wild oats and green foxtail. Then came along
Roundup Ready crops and producers dodged a bullet. But they took the most effective herbicide the world has even seen and overused it. Now glyphosate resistance is showing up and this time there is no solution on the horizon. Shirtliffe agrees longer rotations and fewer chemicals can reduce resistance to weeds, plant diseases and insects. But to achieve that goal, proponents have to sell farmers on complexity rather than simplicity. He’s not sure how to do that. “In terms of a lot of things that are better for the environment, we’re essentially asking people to do much more complex work. This can be an issue, even though we know it’s better,” says Shirtliffe. “There has to be a carrot involved. There has to be something that makes farmers financially want to do that.” Ever the optimist, Entz says some producers are already embracing the complexities of integrated crop production without waiting for a financial carrot. Last summer, the U of M’s annual ecological and organic field day at Carman, Man. drew 150 producers, some of whom have been practising diversified agriculture under the radar for the last 10 years. A meeting on integrated crop management, scheduled for March, is already drawing inquiries.
Entz says farmers began to see the writing on the wall 20 years ago warning that monoculture was a limited system and could come apart without a paradigm shift. Now, producers are increasingly using innovative interventions in their crop management practices. These include: re-integrating livestock in crop production, increasing seeding rates, growing winter crops, planting cover crops, intercropping (e.g., peas and canola grown together), polycropping, even blending varieties of a crop to reduce disease pressure. “There are a lot of things we can do that aren’t as radical as going to alfalfa,” says Entz. To those who feel the future belongs to large-scale industrialized agriculture, Entz points to another historical event which suggests otherwise. From the 1870s to the early 1900s, Manitoba, North Dakota and Minnesota were home to so-called “bonanza farms” — mammoth operations devoted mostly to growing and harvesting wheat. Many ultimately collapsed under their own weight, brought low by the vagaries of weather and the boom-and-bust cycle of crop prices. It was an early example that big farms are not necessarily sustainable. “We’ve been down this road before. There is an optimum economic size for farms,” Entz says. ■
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focus on sustainability
Beef & barley Cattle producer Bruce Chern says stock and crops can go together, even if he’s no grain farmer
ruce and Patty Chern of Stockholm, Sask. have a nice chunk of land — 23 quarter sections — in one large block and get really good harvests from the outside quarters. Bruce says he doesn’t do it himself because, by his own admission, he’s not a grain farmer so he pays his neighbour $70 an acre to grow crops on his land, with a couple of conditions attached. “I decide what I’m going to seed and how much and then I decide the fertilizer,” he says. “But I’ll tell him ‘if you see something that needs doing then do it. Do it like it was your own, take care of it like it’s your own. I’m not going to micromanage you. I trust you.’ And he’ll look at me sideways when I bring the polyaspartic acid tote and I say ‘I’ve got to add that 150 litres of this to the tank.’” That fall the big New Holland combine arrives to pick up the grain. His neighbour’s wife drives it out into the field, drops the header and begins pushing through the ripened crop. While the neighbour looks at the field and tells Chern that he doesn’t have the straw for a really big harvest, the radio crackles and his wife delivers the news. “‘Where’s the truck?’ she asks and he says, ‘Why?’ And she says, ‘I’m full.’” Chern laughs. “She dumped, went another quarter mile and she’s full again.” Chern says this kind of productivity is no accident. It’s because of the soil, the way he manages it and the help he gets from his staff, a herd of 600 cows. Chern is actually a cattle rancher, originally from Smoky Lake, northeast of Edmonton, who bought up a lot of relatively cheap land along the Manitoba-Saskatchewan border. He’s shown that, when properly managed, a cattle ranch can develop fine, fertile soil that can turn forage and pasture land into three years of productive grainland. Cattle farming has been getting a bad rap lately and 14 CROPS GUIDE
By Gord Leathers the UN report, Livestock’s Long Shadow, didn’t do it any favours. Critics of the cattle industry are quick to toss out statistics outlining the methane released, the water consumed and the energy burned in production. There’s no denying that a cow is a large animal that releases methane, drinks water and requires a fair amount of processing before that roast gets into the oven. On the other hand, Nature, left to her own devices, lays out millions of acres of productive grassland on which large ruminants feed. Grasslands love herbivores and whether it’s the African Serengeti, the North American Great Plains or the Pampas of Argentina, large planteating animals rise within the endless fields of forage to exploit a rich resource. In short, if we want farms to be as environmentally sound as the grasslands they replaced, then we may want to reintroduce cattle, the big missing piece of the ecological puzzle. “It’s an old partnership, a natural process that we’d like to mimic in many different ways,” says Grant Lastiwka, a beef-grazing specialist with Alberta Agriculture in Olds. “We don’t have bison on the Prairies like we used to so now we’re looking at the cattle industry as a systems approach in which the animal has a valuable part.” If we’re talking about mimicking the prairie then we need to take a look at the cow’s predecessor and it how lived. The previous denizen of the plains was the bison, a cloven-hoofed giant that grazed the same ground for 10,000 years. Although the domestic cow may be smaller and differently formed, it still has the same basic toolbox of its native cousin. They both have the four-chambered rumen for processing rough forage and turning it into prime protein. If you’re going to run a ruminant you have to feed it what it needs. “This is the big thing that cattle do,” says Mario Tenuta, a soil ecologist with the Faculty of Agriculture at the Uni-
versity of Manitoba. “They provide the opportunity to grow forages such as the grasses, or perennial legumes like alfalfa, and these plants dramatically change soil.” If you visit a prairie preserve and take a good long look at the carpet of green that grows there, the first thing that strikes you is the sheer variety of plants. This is in no way like a lawn, a grain field or even an alfalfa stand. It’s a diverse mixture of perennial grasses, forbs (flowering non-grass plants) and legumes that form a stable and resilient community. The roots run deep, holding down the soil and feeding the teeming hordes of microorganisms. Those microbes are the secret to Chern’s success. “You’ve got to manage the soil because the soil is your workforce,” he says. “Remember that polyaspartic acid? What it does is it balances the soil and makes a lot more of those nutrients available to the plants and to the microbes. Your N, K, P and S is your administration and your administration doesn’t make you any money. It’s your workforce your factory that makes you money.” Those roots are critical too. It’s well known that, as a legume, alfalfa fixes nitrogen and feeds that into the soil. Alfalfa is also legendary for its deep roots, stretching down as far as four feet. It punches through plough pan and introduces holes and tunnels for water to percolate into. The microbes, feeding off those roots, grow in both number and diversity while the soil gets nice and black. The crumbly aggregates start to form and the soil becomes a living, breathing system, rich in nutrients and organisms. It absorbs and holds water better. Once all this happens, the ground is fertile, well structured and ready for the rotation to grains or oilseeds. “When they put in an annual crop they’ll find that they’ll be a tremendous growth response,” Tenuta explains. “Sometimes you have to be careful. That first year after perennials you have to put in a high-nitrogen user because, with alfalfa, there’s a lot of nitrogen added biologically so with that release of nitrogen you want crops that will take it up.” “We would go four or five years in our hay and then we usually go with oats,” Chern adds. “Then we cash crop the canola next year because the second year is usually the highest nitrogen producing year then we’ll seed wheat or barley after that and then we go back into forage again.” All in all it’s longer then the standard three- or fouryear annual crop rotation. After the nutrients are drawn down by the annuals the forages are planted again to replenish the fertility. The plants don’t do this by themselves, however. The animals are important to the process too. In a wild ecosystem the animals provide a service to the plants in exchange for the nourishment they get. “When you have an animal graze, the bulk of the nutrients are returned, whereas when you grow a grain crop, a lot of the nutrients go into the grain, are sold off the land and then need to be replaced with fertilizer,” says Dan Undersander of the University of Wisconsin. “One of the big ones is potassium, a fairly expensive nutrient. If we have them graze, the potassium is in the urine and it comes out on the pasture where it’s redistributed and recycled. We can get over 80 per cent of the potassium recycled in a good grazing system.” It’s not just the potassium, it’s also true of phosphorus and many of the micronutrients. Those deep-rooted alfalfa plants bring them from lower in the soil profile, up to where the cattle can get them. After the cows eat them a full 80 per cent of what goes in the front comes out the back. Those nutrients are recycled back into the soil where they go around again, some of it back into the plants and some of it feeding the microbes, building the soil for that next round of annuals.
Diversity versus simplicity Over the last half century, industries have gone about diversifying their portfolios in the interest of stability while farmers have been doing the opposite. The mixed farm has given has given way to the modern agribusiness and the larger holdings have specialized in annual crops, forages or livestock. Although there may not be many left, there are still some old-school farmers who grow crops, make hay and raise livestock. A new breed of agrologist is looking at the old style of farming as more sustainable environmentally. The question is can the old system be sustainable economically as well? “You know how farmers are,” says cattle rancher Bruce Chern. “They’re always behind the eight ball.” It’s understandable. When you have a large grain farm and a narrow profit margin, changing to a radically different system is daunting. Chern came up with one model that works for him and one of his neighbours. He grows forage and runs cattle but, every four years on some of his outside quarters he’ll terminate the hay and hire his neighbour to manage annual crops for the next three to four years. Each practises his speciality and the results are profitable for both. In future, this kind of land trading may be an alternative means for different farmers. For instance, a grain farmer might grow a feed or forage crop and contract a cattle farmer to feed the cattle right there. “I know one farmer in Saskatchewan who works with neighbours to graze their cropland and he pays them,” says Grant Lastiwka of Alberta Agriculture. “When they’re through with their crops, in he comes, he runs one wire fence around their farm and he grazes it. In he comes, out he goes, pays them a fee and moves on.” There are a couple of advantages here. One is that the landowner pays nothing for harvesting or processing since the cattle do that themselves. Transportation costs are nil as well since the cattle are brought to the crop and not the other way around. In addition, the cattle leave their manure behind to nourish the soil. There are other models to consider for other situations. “A person could grow hay and sell the crop or in some cases we’re seeing people that are selling the rights to someone else to harvest it and market it,” says Dan Undersander of the University of Wisconsin. We’re looking at the forage as being both a chance to improve the health of the soil, a chance to fix the nitrogen a chance to capture more carbon.” These are novel methods that may come into their own as different input costs rise, particularly energy. Properly managed it can be a real win/win situation for all.
“An average cow produces about two to two and half tons of manure in a year and the fertility value of a ton of manure is about 10-10-10,” Chern says. “So I’ll pick two quarters and I’ll spread bales over them and those cows will go all through it and eat everything out there. And not only do you get the manure, you get the urine too. Urine is very volatile in the summer but not in the winter. They take the snow and turn most of it into urine and urinate all over the field. You wouldn’t believe those fields the next five, six, seven, eight years. They quadruple in production.” When all is said and done, there’s really nothing new about the way Chern approaches farming. The mixed farm with both livestock and crops is an old idea that may be coming around again. It’s safe to say that mixed farming like this is essential for organic farmers who depend so much on nutrient conservation and nitrogen fixation. Chern isn’t an organic farmer himself but he’s really happy with the way his quarters produce for him when he tears a page out of their playbook. “We’ll add virtually no artificial nitrogen. We’ll add phosphorus, we’ll add sulphur and we’ll add the ones we can’t make,” Chern says. “I mean I was no award winner in school but I did know that the atmosphere was 78 per cent nitrogen so why should I buy it when I can get it for free and have production to go with it?” n CROPS GUIDE
JANUARY 2013 15
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WGRF RESEARCH UPDATE Western Grains Research Foundation (WGRF) is a farmer-funded and -directed non-profit organization investing primarily in wheat and barley variety development to the benefit of western Canadian producers. Through investments of over $57 million, WGRF has assisted in the development and release of more than 100 new wheat and barley varieties over the past decade and a half, many of which are today seeded to large portions of the cropland in Western Canada. WGRF also invests in research on other western Canadian crops through the Endowment Fund. In fact, since 1981 the WGRF Endowment Fund has supported a wealth of innovation across Western Canada, providing over $26 million in funding for over 230 diverse research projects such as this one:
Simpler solution Mycotoxin detection that’s smarter and cheaper BY CLARE STANFIELD
f you’ve ever had a load of grain rejected at the elevator for high levels of a mycotoxin, say DON or OTA — well, that’s just a special kind of frustration. And, if Health Canada’s proposed new maximum limits for ochratoxin A (OTA) are ultimately accepted, life at the elevator isn’t going to get any easier, and that has researchers at Carleton University, with funding from WGRF, working hard at microscopic levels to see if there isn’t a better, cheaper, more accurate way to test for mycotoxins that makes sense for farmers, as well as the food industry. “At the elevator level, it’s a big problem to try and reliably determine if these toxins are even present,” says Maria DeRosa, associate professor in the department of chemistry at Carleton in Ottawa. “It’s not the tests so much as the ‘needle-in-the-haystack’ nature of the sampling process that’s the problem.” In other words, mycotoxin can hide anywhere in a load of grain and even good sampling may not find it. As DeRosa says, you can take a sample that tests clean, but if you move the probe a millimetre or two in another direction, you could find an infection. It’s just that random. “The only way to get around the sampling problem is to develop cheaper tests,” 18
says DeRosa. In April 2012, she and her team set out to do just that. Building a better mousetrap “In any test, you need a sensor to recognize if something is present,” says DeRosa. “Then, ideally, you want to find out how much is present.” Right now, OTA or DON testing is done with semi-rapid tests that use antibodies, or proteins, as the sensor. Basically, if the antibody detects the mycotoxin, it reacts. And while antibody-based tests are good, they lack somewhat in terms of quantitative information — they can tell you if DON or OTA is there, but not how severe the infection is, or the specific species of pathogen that may be present. To get that information, further lab-based testing is needed, which often results in batch-to-batch irregularities, not to mention added cost. “We’re chemists!” says DeRosa. “We thought that maybe we can come up with something synthetic that’s cheaper and won’t have the batch-to-batch issues.” What they turned to is a new technology called aptamers. “They’re synthetic pieces of DNA and RNA and they wrap around the target molecules with great precision, like a key,” she says. Because they’re essentially synthetic antibodies, aptamers offer a high level of
specificity, where a specific aptamer binds only with a specific mycotoxin. Appropriate, really since the word “aptamer” comes from the Latin aptus, which means “fitted.” Unlike naturally occurring antibodies, aptamers can be made in the lab cheaply and with consistency, meaning they will always bind with the target mycotoxin for reliable, consistent test results. “We already have aptamers for some mycotoxins and we’re developing them for others,” says DeRosa. Old and new Identifying aptamers is only one part of the equation. “They’re the receptors,” says DeRosa. “We need to find a way to get the signal from them.” In other words, it’s no good if the aptamers detect a mycotoxin if they can’t tell anyone they’ve done so. This is where older, established technologies, like lateral flow assays (LFAs) and thinlayer chromatography (TLC) can play a role. LFAs are like pregnancy tests — they tell you if something is there or not, but that’s all. A TLC plate is an old method for separating molecules. “It gives you quantitative information, but it’s not specific,” says DeRosa. So, again, this test can tell you how much mycotoxin is present, but not which one. Integrating aptamer technology to these tests can make them more sensitive and specific. “With a TLC test, we can coat a plate
with aptamers so only OTA would stick,” she says. Conversely, a plate coated with DON-specific aptamers would reveal a more complete picture of that infection. LFA tests would offer improved sensitivity, employing a “signal on” rather than a “signal off” result — in other words, fewer false positives. “We’re taking existing technology and adding some functionality and specificity,” says DeRosa. “And we can do it cheaper, because we can make the best test in the world, but it’s all for naught if it’s not cheap to use.” Knowledge is power If this all sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. Elevators already use LFA and TLC tests regularly, and DeRosa believes that if her team can come up with a way to make them more accurate and inexpensive, the Canadian grain industry will be able to successfully meet new mycotoxin maximum limits without going broke. That’s important because, right now, elevator-based mycotoxin tests cost about $100+ per 20 tonnes of grain — more if the sampling indicates further lab-based testing is required. It’s also important because, if adopted, Health Canada’s proposed maximum levels for OTA (five to 0.5 parts per billion) will
We’re taking existing technology and adding some functionality and specificity. And we can do it cheaper, because we can make the best test in the world, but it’s all for naught if it’s not cheap to use.
— Maria DeRosa, department of chemistry, Carleton University
demand far more sensitive and accurate testing methods — right now, there are no commercially available tests that can even begin to detect OTA at those levels. New maximum limits for DON are still in the works. It’s not that infected grain is completely useless — there is always a feed-versus-food decision to make — but knowing exactly what you’ve got in the truck can make that an easier process. And if knowing comes at a lower cost, even better. “If we have the ability to make better decisions about grain that are based on scientific results, that benefits everyone,” says DeRosa. “Right now, some grain is rejected when it shouldn’t be, and some is accepted when it shouldn’t be. If we have tools we can use that are robust and cheap, that’s just better for everyone.”
How cheap? The goal is to reduce current testing costs by 90 per cent by developing a multi-mycotoxin testing method that will cost $10 or less per sample. Right now, a little more than halfway through year one of her research, DeRosa is extremely positive. “This year, we’re screening different components, finding out which combinations of aptamers and targets work.” Year two will see the team working on prototypes and year three will be real-world testing. “Things are going really well,” says DeRosa. “Research projects are usually hardest at the beginning because you can run into questions you didn’t anticipate. But we were able to hit the ground running because we already had some aptamers identified, I have a great team here. We’re right on track.” ■
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Up your agronomy game More growers are hiring agronomists to take some of the load off at key scouting times and to help with crop protection decisions. Here are some questions growers can ask potential agronomists so they can have a positive and effective working relationship B y J ay W h e t t e r
ou want to be a better farmer. Agronomists want to be better agronomists. Going through these questions with a prospective agronomist or with your existing agronomist can make sure you both understand each other. “I’m an agronomist. I just joined the Canola Council of Canada, but I have 20 years of experience in research and retail agronomy. I know that best results occur when I understand the grower’s mindset, and when the grower understands what I can reasonably deliver,” says Keith Gabert, CCC agronomy specialist in central Alberta. “Working through these questions together can get the grower and new agronomist off on the right foot.” Questions to set expectations Why are you hiring an agronomist? This is a question to ask yourself before you starting looking for an agronomist. Do you want someone to scout and provide input so
you can make the decisions, or do you want someone to actually make decisions on products and timing and you’ll just drive the sprayer. “Agronomists generally prefer to make recommendations and leave the ultimate decisions up the grower, but it’s important to have that discussion and make those expectations clear,” Gabert says. How many acres does the agronomist manage? Good agronomists will be busy because a lot of growers will want their services, but at the same time, you want to make sure they have the time to provide the service you need. Covering a large territory may give the agronomist a good perspective on regional issues or pest outbreaks, but the trade-off may be less time spent in your fields. Where do they get their information? Effective agronomists often use extension resources, co-workers and key contacts before making recommendations. Less-experienced agronomists can still provide good support by getting outside advice, but you want to be confident they have access to that
1. Here is a professional-looking insect-sampling kit, with small glass jars. The rubber stopper with hoses is an aspirator, which is basically a bug vacuum. You suck on one end and hold the other end up to the bug, drawing the bug into the jar — unharmed. 2. The scouting tool kit should include booties. Mud on boots can spread noxious weed seeds and clubroot spores from farm to farm. Use one set of booties per field, and dispose of used ones properly. 3. The simple seed depth tool is a handy way to dig into a seed trench and see how deep you’re going. As the tool shows, this drill is going too deep and should be adjusted. Four inches is too deep for wheat and barley, and way too deep for canola.
20 CROPS GUIDE
advice and are willing to use it when in unfamiliar situations. Are they subscribed to the Canola Councils agronomy newsletter, Canola Watch? How do they keep up their skills? You want an agronomist who is on top of the latest technology and products and science — even if you don’t see an immediate need for these advancements. If they’re part of a larger company, does the company offer training? If they’re on their own, how do they invest in building knowledge? You may ask if they’re a P.Ag or CCA, if you’re looking for accreditation. Are they tied to a particular product line? What if the best product is one the agronomist’s company doesn’t sell? “If a retail agronomist refers you somewhere else to get the product, this is a sure way to gain your trust and earn your business,” Gabert says. How often will they scout your fields? It can take one or two hours of scouting per field per week to keep tabs on all possible threats. Agronomists may not have that much time, but they can supplement the time you spend scouting. “An agronomist will aim to visit each field at least once every seven days when decisions are being made,” Gabert says, “but growers can’t expect him to come out every two to three days.” In addition to these questions, you can also ask for references. Questions on skills and biases Growers have their own philosophies when it comes to weed, insect and disease management, fertilizer rates and fertilizer choices, for example. Some want all weeds eliminated while some can tolerate a few weeds because that extra spray just doesn’t pay. Some want to be the first to try new technology, while some prefer to wait until the research is firmly onside. With the following questions, the grower can test an agronomist’s bias and whether the agronomist is likely to encourage actions outside the grower’s philosophy or risk tolerance. Agronomists can also use the line of questioning to learn about the grower. Rather than answer, “What
do you think about micronutrients and boron?”, the agronomist can use the question as a starting point to find out more about the grower ’s crop nutrition preferences. Here are some sample questions to get you started: How do you determine fertility requirements? What rate would you recommend seeding canola and why? What is your clubroot sanitation plan? What insects and diseases are you most concerned about? What rotation do you recommend for me? This last one is a loaded question. While a four-year rotation might be ideal, especially for disease management, we know that many growers across the Prairies are on a twoyear rotation of canola and wheat. Some grow canola on canola stubble from time to time. As CCC crop production resource manager Derwyn Hammond says, “If you answer that question without asking some questions about my farm’s background, my field characteristics and cropping history, you’re probably not getting my business.” By taking time to find out the grower’s rotation philosophy, the agronomist can work
with the grower’s preferred rotation and what it presents in terms of economics and pest management. Questions on scouting Thorough scouting can take a lot of time and care, which was explained with the question above, “How often will you scout my fields?” But the amount of time spent in a field does not say anything about the scouting skill level. You want an agronomist who goes into a field with a mind open to any possibility, and who is careful about insect counts and thresholds — especially when it’s your money paying for the spray. Here are some questions to test an agronomist’s approach to scouting: What do you do when you go through a field? (Ideal answer: Walk a W or X pattern throughout the field). How many sites do you inspect? (Ideal answer: At least five, preferably 10). What do you do if you think cutworms might be the problem? (Dig). How would you estimate the number of lygus bugs in B:8” folmy crop? (Use a sweep net and low sweep net protocols). T:8”
Go out to the field with the agronomist and check out their scouting practices. Note the tools they carry (see the sidebar) and how they use them. Scott Meers, insect management specialist for Alberta Agriculture, would like to see all agronomists carry a sweep net for insect scouting. But as CCC agronomy specialist Dan Orchard says, “The network matters more than the net.” Having a sweep net isn’t enough — you also need an insect specialist in your network and other resources to properly interpret what sweep net contents mean, Orchard says. Meers agrees. In the end, you need an agronomist who, in a phrase, ups your agronomy game. You need an agronomist who understands your farming philosophy, who helps you make decisions in line with that philosophy and, ultimately, who makes your farm more profitable and more sustainable. n Jay Whetter is communications manager with the Canola Council of Canada. He’s also editor of the CCC’s free Canola Watch agronomy newsletter. Go to www.canolawatch.org and find the sign up box down the right column.
Beware Sclerotinia, ‘The Pirate of the Prairies.’
For more information please visit: BayerCropScience.ca/Proline
BayerCropScience.ca/Proline or 1 888-283-6847 or contact your Bayer CropScience representative.
Always read and follow label directions. Proline® is a registered trademark of the Bayer Group. Bayer CropScience is a member of CropLife Canada.
12-19-2012 2:27 PM CALMCL-DMX8127 Marsha Walters
JANUARY 2013 21
SBC13000.Proline.App.2 Crops Guide Insertion Date: Jan. 16, 2013 Bayer Crop Science
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The scouting tool kit A well-stocked agronomy tool kit can up your agronomy game. Professional agronomists should have most or all of these tools in the truck. Growers may find them handy as well, especially if you’re sharing the scouting duties. Smartphone ollaborate with others, keep records, and take and email photos — all from the field. When sending photos C for identification, include the crop type, where on the plant the insect or symptom is found, location of the field, name of the grower, and the date. Take a few shots, including close ups and different angles, to help with ID.
Seed depth finder This simple tool with a small digging point is designed to check seed depth. Some growers just use a screwdriver.
Standard sweep net he standard size has a 36-inch long handle and 15-inch diameter net. Use a sweep net to identify the presT ence of lygus bugs, beneficial insects, diamondback moth larvae and other insect pests, including midge in wheat. In canola, lygus and cabbage seedpod weevil economic thresholds are based on sweep net counts, and proper counts depend on using the standard sweep net and technique. Flying insects can pop out of the net quickly, so carefully dump all contents into a Ziploc bag, then count insects through the bag. Buy the perforated bags.
Hand trowel and trowels are handy for wireworm and cutworm scouting, and for checking seed depth and root health. H When digging for cutworms and wireworms, many scouts also keep a basin to hold the soil and a sieve to separate insects from dry soil.
Two-sided or three-sided “square” ome insect thresholds are based on counts per square foot or square metre. A two- or three-sided “square” S slips into the canopy more easily than a full square, but you have to visualize the missing sides.
Hoop or metre stick hese are used for plant counts. For the metre stick, count the stems per metre of row. Take that number and T multiply by 100 then divide by the seed row spacing in cm to get plants per square metre. (nine inch spacing is 23 cm.) Divide by 10 to get plants per square foot, roughly.
Magnifying glass his helps to identify insect species based on specific markings, to identify very small insects, such as thrips, to T spot pycnidia in blackleg lesions, and to look at the growing points of frosted canola to see if they’re regrowing.
Booties and gloves for biosecurity ud on the bottom of boots can spread noxious weed seeds and clubroot spores from farm to farm. Use one M set of booties per field, and dispose of used ones properly. Nitrile or latex gloves can keep your hands clean when handling insects, plant roots, etc. “We’re really obsessed with biosecurity in our program,” says Alberta Agriculture pest specialist Scott Meers.
Flags ave flags to mark areas with suspicious weeds, disease lesions, or rising insect populations, so you can conH tinue monitoring. Plastic stemmed flags are preferred in case you forget them in the field and accidentally cut them with the swather.
Clippers lippers are essential for pre-harvest blackleg scouting. They provide a nice clean cross section, better than a C jackknife.
Beating sheet his is an expandable white sheet made from plasticized material. It has cross pieces underneath to keep corT ners square. Entomologists often have these on hand for field days, to bang out aphids or caterpillars or other insects to do accurate counts.
Containers for insect samples lass vials, pill bottles or small plastic lunchbox containers work well for storing and mailing insects. GrowG ers and agronomists scouting fields are often the first line of defence when it comes to identifying first arrivals and new insect pests. But this defense is useless if the insect can’t be identified. “Specimens are king,” says Scott Meers. With the container, include notes that include the host crop, where on the plant the insect was found, the legal location of the field, grower’s name, and the date. An aspirator can help suck insect specimens off a plant and put them into the vials. It works like a drinking straw, but insects end up in the jar, not your mouth. They work faster than tweezers and do less damage to the insect.
22 CROPS GUIDE
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12-12-04 2:18 PM
Getting lean and mean on fuel efficiency It’s time to get serious on the fundamentals to fully maximize farm profitability By Brad Brinkworth, Meristem Media
very dollar counts in farming today. One of the best areas for producers to make sure they are maximizing all of their profitability potential is fuel efficiency. This means getting things right on fundamentals such as tire pressure, ballast and fuel selection. Sounds simple. But the reality is many producers don’t realize the lost efficiency dollars that are falling through the cracks and the basic but often overlooked things they can do to stop that. There are also new factors to consider, as farm machinery continues to evolve, such as the impact of continuously variable transmissions. Lawrence Papworth, a longtime project engineer, sees the fuel efficiency challenge clearer than most. He is part of the team at the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development (ARD) AgTech Centre in Lethbridge, Alta., which has tested and researched a number of critical variables related to fuel efficiency in farm equipment use, to identify truly where the strengths and gaps are. The bottom line, says Papworth, is that farmers need to take the time to get serious on fuel efficiency and make the adjustments needed to stop losses and get full value from their farm machinery use. The good news, he says, is that big money savings are there for the taking, worth far more than the effort. “Many producers I talk to are often surprised at the simple adjustments they are missing and how much they can gain by managing those fundamentals tighter,” says Papworth. “A bit of fine tuning can mean 10 per cent greater fuel efficiency or more, which today is a pretty major gain.” Farming operations have come a long way to become more efficient and productive, but fuel efficiency is still an area where often farmers are not optimizing their approaches. “It’s an area that gets overlooked that really shouldn’t — it’s one of the best opportunities farmers have today to quickly and significantly boost up the profit potential of their operations.” Do the homework Fundamentals such as tire pressure and ballast are always worth a strong reminder. At the same time, new tractors bring new features and operational adjustments to take into account. For Papworth, who often speaks to producer groups on this topic, an enlightening starting point for getting a handle on the issue is a graph showing the relationship between tractors and fuel consumption over the years (see the chart “Steady gains in tractor fuel efficiency”). What the graph shows clearly is a long period of steady increase in fuel efficiency as new tractors have come on line. “I use this graph to reinforce to farmers that manufacturers are doing their job,” says Papworth. “But where the big losses can be is if the producers are not doing their work by making sure tires are the right pressure or that they’re operating at the right ballast.” Other factors are proper maintenance and figuring out the best approach for operating a specific tractor. “For 24
example, if your tractor is too big for a job and does not have continuously variable transmission, ‘gear up throttle down’ is an important technique,” says Papworth. “It’s those variables that both on their own and collectively can make a substantial difference. There’s a bit of homework and added effort involved, but the reward is there.” Checklist to minimize fuel consumption As the chart shows, with the efficiency gains of the engines on newer tractors, one thing producers can do to instantly boost fuel efficiency is by shifting to newer tractors with more efficient engines. While that doesn’t mean a brand new tractor is a necessity every handful of years, says Papworth, it is worth taking into account the fuel efficiency savings and other advantages that can help offset the cost of that investment. New tractor types with tracked tires represent a whole new ball game of considerations that will be important to factor in when evaluating fuel efficiency. But for conventional tractors, the main checklist of considerations to minimize fuel consumption is based on fundamentals that can apply to any tractor, whether 15 years old or fresh off the lot. Here are some of the most important. 1. Tire pressure One of the pivotal tractor settings affecting fuel efficiency is tire inflation pressure. On a good day, about 70 per cent of the power delivered by the engine translates into power at the drawbar. Tires are the conduits through which that power is delivered to the ground. How efficient that delivery is depends on the condition and inflation pressure of the tires. “The basic rule of thumb here is tires should be inflated to the lowest pressure allowed by the manufacturer for the load the tires are carrying,” says Papworth. “That keeps more tire on the ground which makes the power delivery that much more efficient.” Overinflated tires will rut soft soils more easily, decrease traction, wear the tread unevenly and strain the tire material itself. At the same time, you don’t want underinflated the tires — this increases the sidewall wear and raises the risk of side buckling and rim slip. Identifying the right specs is becoming a simpler process, says Papworth. “The information from dealers that comes with new tractors is pretty good now. We see things like spreadsheets showing the weight of the tractor and how that should match up with the ballast and the tire pressure. But old tractors don’t have that, and there are still many producers out there who think that they have to fill the tires up.” That’s a significant problem, he says. “When you fill a tire up so it looks like it’s full, it’s usually 20 PSI, and the maximum pressure for a radial is actually 15 PSI, so I suspect there’s a lot of tires out there that are too high of pressure.” Farmers also need to make sure they have the right gauge for checking pressure, he says. “Especially if you have liquid
Continued on page 26
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12-11-08 12:02 PM
Continued from page 24
Big question: Continuously variable transmissions One of the key innovations in new tractors in recent years is the introduction of continuously variable transmissions. These transmissions, now quite common across the Canadian Prairies, make for easier operation by doing the “gear up, throttle down” technique automatically. But a big question the industry is still getting a handle on is how well these transmissions perform, including in terms of their impact on fuel efficiency. Project engineer Lawrence Papworth and his colleagues at the AgTech Centre in Lethbridge, Alta., are looking further into this emerging issue. It’s still a bit early to make judgments — more field tests, for one, will be needed in the coming years to provide a stronger grounding for analysis. “We don’t have all the answers, but we are learning some things,” says Papworth. “We know there are important differences that we will need to take into account. They are significant enough to impact recommendations for factors such as most efficient operation of the machinery. At AgTech Centre, we are also looking into this as part of calculations for carbon use.”
Solid advantage for variable loads Some of the most advanced work to date examining continuously variable transmission has been done at the University of Nebraska. “The preliminary work confirms these transmissions work well, but there are some efficiency losses to be expected simply because there are more moving parts losses within that system. There’s actually a point where if you are using an old tractor with the gear up throttle down approach, you can operate a bit more efficiently than with the continuously variable transmission.” It’s likely not a huge difference though, he says, and for most farmers the ease of use with the new approach outweighs any slight drawbacks on efficiency. “We need to see field tests, but indications are the difference is fairly minor. This is a factor though to learn more about and take into account as we improve our information and calculations. “The advantage of the continuously variable is still pretty good, especially if you have a situation where you’re varying the load quite a bit. It simplifies operation and adds overall efficiencies by streamlining the management of the workload. The more you are varying loads with one tractor, the more you may want to consider the continuously variable transmission.”
Steady gains in tractor fuel efficiency This graph, developed by AgTech Centre based on Nebraska Tractor Tests, shows fuel consumption by tractors over the past 40 years. The upward trajectory indicates steady improvement in fuel efficiency over this period.
ballast in your tires, it’s not that easy to check the pressure, because you can wreck a conventional gauge. You have to make sure you have the right type of gauge — so make sure to ask your farm equipment dealer or tire dealer.” 2. Ballasting for efficiency Most farmers reach the upper limits of their tractor’s power only 15 to 20 per cent of the time. With this in mind, weighting the tractor for typical conditions rather than maximum needs will reduce fuel costs. Ideally, farmers could change the ballast on their tractors for specific loads, but that can be a hassle. The key to ballasting is to decide the speed necessary for an operation and the amount of the load, says Papworth. Then set the tractor weight just heavy enough to pull that load at that speed and at an acceptable slip level. The total tractor weight should wind up being 2.5 to three times the load being pulled. When a tractor is overballasted, excessive torque can be transmitted through the drivetrain and tires to the ground, he says. That can cause overloads, wear and drivetrain failures. As well, fuel costs are increased from carrying the extra weight and from the inefficient power transfer. An underballasted tractor wears tire tread at a faster pace because of excessive slip while never delivering full horsepower to the drawbar, he says. Fuel is wasted because of the extra wheel revolutions to travel the same distance. When fine tuning ballast distribution, it’s important to consider wheel slip, horsepower and speed. The total ballasted weight for drawn implements should balance as follows: Type
Gear up, throttle back. For ideal tractor efficiency, match the tractor power to the load. When a load requires less than 70 per cent of the tractor’s power, a farmer can save fuel by shifting to a higher gear and slowing engine rpm to maintain the desired speed. This practice is sometimes referred to as GUTB (Gear Up, Throttle Back). Using this technique, engine speed can usually be reduced by 20 or 30 per cent below rated engine speed. The actual speed is the same, but the gear is higher and the engine is running slower. That loads the engine again and brings it back into the “sweet spot” where fuel is being used most efficiently. The continuously variable transmissions available on newer tractors are automatic versions of the GUTB technique. Make periodic checks for optimum GUTB settings Work for a short time at desired speed and throttle setting. Then quickly open the throttle. If the engine easily speeds up, the setting is suitable. If the engine does not respond, shift down a gear or increase the engine speed. Perform the check again and adjust as required. 3. Tire mileage (old is OK) Don’t pull the trigger too quick on new tractor tires, says Papworth. Older tires with worn-down lugs are more efficient at providing power to the ground, which translates into better fuel efficiency. 4. Tire type Papworth and colleagues recommend using radial tires over bias-ply tires. A North Dakota State University
26 CROPS GUIDE
found that properly inflated radials improve fuel efficiency by six per cent over bias-ply tires. Similar results were found in an AgTech Centre study. Using duals can decrease a tractor’s fuel efficiency, says Papworth. They increase flotation but may be unnecessary in good traction conditions. “The more tires you add, the less efficient you tractor is,” he says. 5. Use the right fuel It’s not a good idea to use winter fuel in the summer or vice versa. 6. Avoid diesel idling Some farmers let their tractors, especially diesel ones, idle because it’s easier than restarting, but research shows that’s unnecessary in all but the most extreme weather conditions.
7. Regular maintenance Keeping air filters relatively clean and keeping regular maintenance up-to-date are sensible guidelines. 8. Reduce operations Last but not least, fuel efficiency is just one of many reasons farmers should always carefully analyze their operations and eliminate unnecessary machinery use, says Papworth. Reduced tillage is a leading example of an approach that benefits the land and productivity over the long term, while also slashing costs associated with use of machinery. n B:10.5” Meristem is a Calgary-based communications firm that specializes in writing about western agriculture, food and land T:10” use. MoreS:8” articles at www.meristem.com.
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MORE THAN 1,000 WORDS 5
Modern concrete elevators are the entry point for your grain into a sophisticated handling and marketing system that’s made Canada a world leader
T 1. A modern elevator handles massive amounts of grain. At one point there were thousands of elevators on the Prairies. Now its down to just a couple of hundred, and one of the keys to this new handling system is the ability to efficiently load large blocks of 50 and 100 cars using dedicated sidings as seen here in the foreground at the Richardson Mollard facility.
his issue photographer Ryan Fennessey visited the Richardson International facility at Mollard, Man., just west of Winnipeg. It’s a typical high-volume line elevator these days, though its a far cry from the old wooden sentinels of a bygone era.
2. These facilities are also highly automated and utilize technology like the sampling arm shown here that probes trucks as they arrive at the driveway. 3. From there the grain sample goes to the facility’s operations centre, where it’s graded and tested for other quality factors such as dockage and moisture level. 4. That information is then delivered to the station which operates grain receiving, sorting and delivery to facility storage.
5. Once the grade and quality of the grain has been determined the next step is scaling in to determine the quantity, which is of course where the truck also dumps the grain into the pit.
28 CROPS GUIDE
6. Beneath the floor an internal grain handling system takes the delivery and begins to move it to the appropriate location. 7. Grain is elevated from the pit to the very top of the facility, where a grain sorting and distribution system is used to place it in the appropriate storage bin (8) in the case of this facility, a combination of concrete silos and steel bins are employed. The fine dust collection vent in the foreground makes these facilities safer by preventing the buildup of potentially explosive grain dust. 9. The next step uses gravity to rapidly and efficiently fill grain cars using the filling station on the bottom left. 10. Back down at ground level you can see the design allows two cars to be filled simultaneously, monitored by an operator. (11)
JANUARY 2013 29
Maximum micronutrients New technology from a Winnipeg company may solve an old problem when it comes to micronutrient availability By Gord Leathers
arming in the northern plains is a race. The ideal crop sets root fast, emerges early, grows quickly then sets seed for harvest before the first frost after which crop quality tumbles. In the final tally, a small assortment of advantages in speed and efficiency can make all the difference. Wolf Trax, a micronutrient company in Winnipeg, feels it has a product that delivers that speed through an innovative approach to feeding a crop. It’s not a granule or a liquid. It’s an electrostatically charged powder that clings to the nitrogen or phosphate prills or, with one product, the seeds themselves. This is how it delivers a small dose of formulated copper, zinc or manganese to the sprouting seed to kick-start metabolism and get it going quickly. “There are six current dispersible dry powder (DDP) micronutrient products,” according to Wolf Trax marketing director Jereleen Brydon. As a rule, these micronutrients aren’t in short supply in Prairie soils. The purpose of the product, however, isn’t necessarily to address a shortage of micronutrients within the field. It’s really to provide a small dose of them at a crucial time. “It’s a little nutrient boost. One of our reps calls it baby food for your crop,” explains Jennifer Bailes, director of seed product and innovation. “You’re giving a sprouting plant a small amount of nutrition to get it going so it can feed itself during a period of time in which it can always use a little bit of help.” If you’ve ever taken a close look at a seed, wheat for instance, you’ll notice a misshapen nub at one end of it. That’s the embryo. The rest of the seed is a rich mixture of proteins
and carbohydrates to nourish the embryo and get it started. There should be enough to get the first root, or radical into the soil while the shoot pops out and reaches for the sun. Plants need this grace period. Once that root is set and the very first leaf unfolds, the chloroplasts ignite the forge and begin photosynthesis. The roots start scavenging moisture and nutrients to send aloft so the leaf cells can begin hammering molecules together to make sugars for fuel and proteins for growth. The micronutrients, the copper, zinc and manganese, the molybdenum and boron are crucial here and generally found in low concentration within the soil solution. Plants can get them and do. Getting them a little sooner helps. Under ideal circumstances, crop plants will have enough in the seed so that they can reach the phosphate prill or the urea granule put there during seeding. That concentrated dose of macronutrients hits the plant and throws it into accelerated growth. Getting the right amount of micronutrients at the same time speeds it up a little more and that’s what the powder does. The plant doesn’t have to go looking for micronutrients just as the whole system kicks into high gear. Additionally, just because a soil test shows micronutrients are there and in proper concentrations, they may not be physiologically available to the plant. Soil temperature plays an important role. “Sometimes the deficiencies are actually environmentally induced because of the cool temperatures and the nutrients being less available,” says Alberta Government soil specialist Ross McKenzie. “As soon as it warms up the availability increases.” The formulation is half the story. The intriguing part of it is that dry powder
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that carries the minerals. In the original form, these different micronutrients were suspended in a liquid and applied as a foliar. It gave a nice, even distribution over a field but it still led to a serious problem with the timing. A foliar is applied to an already established plant and this is like throwing the life preserver to the stricken swimmer after he’s reached the shore. Mixing micronutrient prills into the urea or phosphate didn’t work particularly well either. “If you blend a micronutrient with a nitrogen, phosphorus or potassium prill it tends to fall out of the blend,” says Wolf Trax sales manager Brenda Dubeck. “A retailer’s blender may give a good blend but as it goes to the truck to the field to the spreader it will settle out.” Consequently that spreader will overdose some parts of the field and underdose most of it. There is still a deeper problem. Even a perfect micronutrient blend has very few granules in relation to the regular urea or phosphate. If one in 10 of the granules dropped by the spreader is zinc, many of the plants still have to send roots quite a distance to gain access to the micronutrient. “They tried mixing different products together and had limited success,” Brydon says. “So they consulted with some chemists and together they developed the dry dispersible powder (DDP) formulation.” The big advantage of the powder is the application. It’s mixed in with the regular fertilizer and, in the physical action of blending, the powder develops an electrostatic charge that sticks it to the prill. This is just like the party trick where you rub a balloon against your hair so the charge will stick it to the wall. Each granule now has a thin coating of zinc, manganese or copper along with the macronutrient. It’s every bit as accessible as nitrogen or phosphorus and the overall dose may be smaller than with a traditional blend. In addition, the formulation has a dual action where some of the mineral is instantly accessible for the seedling. The rest of it is a slow release that continues to feed the growing plant over the season.
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30 CROPS GUIDE
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“It’s formulated to coat the fertilizer and when it is applied it avoids soil tieup,” Bailes added. “In each one of the DDP micronutrients there are multiple sources of mineral and that’s what allows the dual action.” The other product line is Protinus, a micronutrient powder that may be applied directly to the seed after other treatments. “What we found were a lot of producers, particularly in the corn-growing area of the Midwest, were using our DDP micronutrients to coat their corn seed right in their planter box and then planting them in the ground,” Bailes says. “They saw that the closer they could get the nutrient to the seed, the earlier they could feed the crop and the more efficient their application would be. So we took an idea that growers came up with and we improved on it by making a formulated seed-safe micronutrient product called Protinus.” Farmers who apply fungicide or insecticide on the seed can also apply Protinus afterwards. Once the protective chemistry has dried the seed coat becomes “tacky” taking on the sticky characteristics of the business side of Scotch Tape. “That’s when we recommend that Protinus be applied because the liquid has had time to coat the seed thoroughly and then you can put the powder on,” Bailes says.
“What you end up with is a nicely coated product that’s ready for planting.” Once again, the idea is to give the plant easy access to a little bit of fertilizer in the right place at the soonest possible time. Further to that the coating also affects the pH around the seed in the same way a root does. This has the added advantage of helping the seedling absorb the native nutrients in the soil more easily. “As a result we see the plant come out of the ground more quickly and more vigorously,” Bailes says. “They have a stronger start and at the end of the day, they quite often have higher yields as well. This makes Protinus unique compared to other seedapplied fertilizers. There aren’t any other products that have this chemical formulation to assure uptake.” Wolf Trax dispersible powders have registration through the Canadian Food Inspection agency and they claim this is on the basis of independent trial data. According to the registration Wolf Trax will correct micronutrient deficiency and although it’s not a magic bullet, it comes with a guarantee. “We’re able to make this label claim because of valid data that we provided to the CFIA,” Brydon says. “So this is a reason why we can sell our products with confidence and back them up with a guarantee even at the lower rates.” n
Monsanto Company is a member of Excellence Through Stewardship® (ETS). Monsanto products are commercialized in accordance with ETS Product Launch Stewardship Guidance, and in compliance with Monsanto’s Policy for Commercialization of Biotechnology-Derived Plant Products in Commodity Crops. This product has been approved for import into key export markets with functioning regulatory systems. Any crop or material produced from this product can only be exported to, or used, processed or sold in countries where all necessary regulatory approvals have been granted. It is a violation of national and international law to move material containing biotech traits across boundaries into nations where import is not permitted. Growers should talk to their grain handler or product purchaser to confirm their buying position for this product. Excellence Through Stewardship® is a registered trademark of Excellence Through Stewardship. ALWAYS READ AND FOLLOW PESTICIDE LABEL DIRECTIONS. Roundup Ready® crops contain genes that confer tolerance to glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup® brand agricultural herbicides. Roundup® brand agricultural herbicides will kill crops that are not tolerant to glyphosate. Genuity and Design®, Genuity Icons, Genuity®, Roundup Ready®, and Roundup® are trademarks of Monsanto Technology LLC. Used under license.
JANUARY 2013 31
Hot or not? An early look at what’s likely to drive 2013 seeding intentions
By David Drozd Senior analyst and president, Ag-Chieve Corporation
his is the season when optimism about the year ahead begins to grow. Trade shows are full of farmers searching for the next big thing, the new idea that will make their farms more efficient and profitable and everyone begins wondering about what they should plant in the Spring. Now I realize rotations play a big role in determining which crops end up going in the ground, but farmers also often ask me, what’s the “sleeper crop” going to be this year? Well, no guarantees but I do believe 2013 could be a profitable year for cereal grain crops. Not to say you should shy away from oilseeds, as you should never put all your eggs in one basket, but I believe the outlook for cereal grains is quite positive. I would anticipate an increase in corn acreage in North America. Judging by the soybean/corn ratio in the accompanying graph, new crop soybean values would have to increase substantially over corn before farmers would be enticed to plant more soybeans relative to corn. The ratio spread between the November 2013 soybean futures contract and the December 2013 corn futures contract is currently 2.05. I don’t believe farmers will be interested in pushing the soybean envelope, unless soybeans are at least 2.35 times the price of corn. In other words, with corn prices on the December 2013 futures contract currently reflecting $6.40 per bushel here at the end of November 2012, the November 2013 soybean futures price would have to be $2 per bushel higher at $15.04, before corn acreage would revert to soybeans. Therefore, the market is doing its job of encouraging corn acres to ensure an adequate supply in 2013-14 and the current fundamental situation is reinforcing this notion. According to USDA, world corn and coarse grain stocks/ usage ratios are on the decline and approaching all-time lows at approximately 13 per cent, while the global soybean stocks/usage ratio is expected to rebound to approximately 23 per cent. The outlook is also supportive for wheat values. The expectation is for the former Soviet Union and Ukraine to
Soybean Nov 2013 / Corn Dec 2013 Ratio Spread
32 CROPS GUIDE
curb exports because of reduced production. Drought conditions have reduced 2012-13 Australian wheat production to 21 million tonnes (Mt), a decrease of 8.5 Mt from last year and global wheat ending stocks are expected to decline for the third consecutive year. As a result, North American wheat exports are anticipated to increase. As of week 17, year-to-date Canadian total wheat disappearance is up 10.1 per cent, with exports ahead by 1.8 per cent and domestic usage up an impressive 37.7 per cent from last year’s pace. Canadian durum disappearance is up a notable 55 per cent, with exports ahead by 31.6 per cent and domestic usage up a remarkable 195 per cent from last year’s pace. According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, lower production in Morocco, the EU and Kazakhstan should increase the demand for Canadian durum. 2012-13 Canadian durum stocks are projected to decline 24 per cent to 1.1 Mt, which is the lowest level since 2007-08. World production is expected to decrease 1.6 Mt to 35.1 Mt. Increased feed usage of wheat, due to the tight corn supply should provide good underlying support for wheat prices. Looking ahead to 2013-14, the southern U.S. continues to remain dry, as winter wheat nears dormancy. The November 25, USDA crop condition report indicates the U.S. winter wheat crop is 33 per cent good and excellent with 26 per cent poor and very poor. These are the lowest ratings ever recorded for this time of year. The oat industry could see reduced plantings in 201314, if oat prices don’t improve. Farmers in the Prairie provinces tell us they are keenly interested in seeding wheat, as there is good profit potential with new crop spring wheat bids at $8-$8.50 per bushel. Barley growers are sharpening their pencils, as feed barley prices exceed $6 per bushel in southern Alberta, which is comparable to the price of malt. The barley industry could see a shift to more barley being grown for feed and less for malt, if farmers don’t receive a higher premium for malt versus feed barley. I suspect the area sown to canola in 2013-14 may be reduced marginally. Disappointing yields due to excess moisture, drought and aster yellows has farmers looking at alternative crops. In fact, we are hearing that the area sown to soybeans in Western Canada may nearly double in 2013-14. As always, Mother Nature will ultimately have the final say, as to which crop provides the best return. So, grow what performs the best on your farm. All crops are in high demand, but the key to a profitable year is ensuring a high yielding crop. With many areas still dry, it’s imperative you choose the right crop for your farm. n
Fight Wheat Midge in Your Fields Midge tolerant wheat offers built-in protection and high yields. Stuart Elder is able to enjoy his July summer nights now that he doesn’t have to be out scouting for wheat midge. “Since I started using midge tolerant varieties, I don’t have to worry about checking my crops for midge,” he says. Elder farms about 3,200 acres of spring wheat, winter wheat, flax, canola and peas near Simpson, Saskatchewan. In 2012, he seeded all of his wheat acres to either AC® Shaw VB or AC® Unity VB, and plans to continue growing midge tolerant varieties in the future. “I’ve had midge damage in the past, and commonly used insecticides to help prevent it,” says Elder. “So I was always following the midge tolerant wheat research down the pipeline, and began growing them when they became commercially available.” “I think the biggest benefit is to preserve yield,” he says. “Plus I don’t have midge damage in my harvested grain and the added worry and expense of insecticide application.” Adam Ellis is also pleased with the quality and performance of midge tolerant wheat. “Over the last few years before we started using the technology we did have quite a bit of midge damage, and had to spray,” says Ellis. Ellis’s family farms about 5,000 acres of peas, canola, wheat, durum, barley and sometimes lentils, just south of Allan, Saskatchewan. In 2012 they planted about 2,000 acres of AC® Goodeve VB and 500 acres of AC® Utmost VB, leaving only one wheat field with a non-midge tolerant variety. “That field didn’t perform as well as the midge tolerant varieties,” says Ellis. “Bushels were down and it did have some bug damage.”
Ellis was happy with the yield and quality of the midge tolerant wheat varieties. “Pretty much everything came off in that 45 to 50 bushel per acre range, and most graded No.1,” he says. “We like these varieties because we don’t have to worry about spraying, it saves crop damage from the high clearance sprayer, plus they have high yields and early maturity.” While this new technology is very effective, it does require proper stewardship in order to keep it viable for future generations. Farmers are required to sign a Midge Tolerant Wheat Stewardship Agreement, which limits the use of farm-saved seed to one generation past Certified seed. This step keeps the interspersed refuge at the desired level of 10% of the plant population, preventing a build-up of resistant midge. “I understand the science behind why the stewardship program is in place,” says Elder. “That’s why I grow Certified seed and then use it just the following year. I think that’s a good way of doing it.” Ellis agrees that maintaining the interspersed refuge system is important to extending the life of the midge tolerance. “The technology works for us, and it makes sense to keep seed only one year after Certified,” he says.
Visit midgetolerantwheat.ca to learn more about the varieties and how the interspersed refuge system works.
“The technology works for us, and it makes sense to keep seed only one year after Certified.” Adam Ellis
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