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Hope Springs Eternal in Agriculture

Hope Springs Eternal in Agriculture

Michelle Pinon News Advertiser

Farming has its fair share of ups and downs and last growing season was no exception as it brought forth both drought conditions and excessive moisture to producers in the area.

Darwin Ullery, Director of Agricultural and Utility Services for the County of Minburn, described moisture levels as excessive. Estimates range between 19-23 inches above the average of 8-12 inches of rain throughout the growing season. “Spring was excessively dry here, drought conditions actually; but on or about June 10 we got 2 1/2 inches of rain and 3-4 inches of wet snow, and it never quit after that.”

He went onto say that it was hard to spray weeds. “Fungicide application was once again held up by weather. There was a lot of usage of aerial spraying. At one time the airport had between 10 and 12 planes working at one time. It was hard on ground equipment. The positive side of that is yields were pretty well record breaking. We had good heat units and excessive moisture that created growing conditions we don’t get to see very often in this area.

The negative would probably be that harvest was extremely difficult. Probably 10-15 per cent is still left out in the fields, so we’re going to have some Spring harvest. We won’t know the quality of that (crop) until spring. You always get a little bit of mice feeding and some deterioration in quality like a grade loss. So we’ll see what the spring brings. Spring harvest doesn’t happen in this area very often, bit it’s going to this year.”

He describes farmers as a “resilient bunch” and expects them to get last year’s crop off. Most of the grain that came off last year had to be dried. Some producers had their crops custom dried or sold it wet to the grain elevators at a discount. Last year we had both positives and negatives for sure. Typically we get our grain off dry but last three or four years it’s been hard to get it off with early freezing and snow falls,” pointed out Ullery.

“Even hay crops ended up being pretty nice. Very few second crops. Hard to get off as well. The quality is poor, but there’s a lot of it,” noted Ullery.

“There really is no pest infestations. There’s quite a bit of Fuseurim Graminearum in wheat in barley; we’ve been hearing amounts up to five per cent, so that could be an issue we’re dealing with. And clubroot as well. Both diseases are quite heavily tied to the weather and moisture levels, and they have a tendency to flare up in wet years and disappear in dry years. From our perspective we enforce the Provincial Pest Control Act and the Provincial Weed Control Act for noxious weeds so if there’s a bad clubroot or fusarium infestation we can issue an enforcement notices to landowners to destroy that crop to try and limit the spread of those diseases. I don’t foresee it ever getting to that level.

In the case of clubroot we would need to see it wall to wall, corner to corner. But now science has brought us resistant varieties of canola so the infection levels we’re finding is extremely low so we haven’t had to take any enforcement action on canola or fusarium so I don’t forecast that we will.” Currently there’s no legislation regarding crop rotation, but there are regulations around best practices. “We recommend a three year rotation. It helps break up that disease cycle.”

As far as canola,“It’s actually coming back up in price right now. People were worried about being locked out of the Chinese market, but from what we’ve seen so far, producers have been doing a good job at finding other markets. It really hasn’t been hit that hard. With the market looking like it is right now I don’t think it will affect things in 2020.”

Most often producers plant canola, wheat, barley and some oats. Ullery said there’s still some experimentation with soybeans, and some talk about lentils and fababeans. “They are all smaller markets though, and if you don’t have production contracts locked in before you seed the crop you don’t know if you’ll be able to market it or what price you’ll get. It carries a lot of risk. It’s kind of the same with the hemp, you want to make sure you have a buyer to take it. There’s a lot of new crops on the horizon, so well see how the markets develop.”