Crops look to come from behind after dry start

Soil compaction and soil crusting led to emergence problems earlier this season, although more recent rains have loosened things up and crops are reportedly coming on

Crops struggle to emerge through hardened soils in Manitoba’s clay-soil regions this spring.

On camera, the soil chunk dug up in eastern Manitoba in mid-June might as well have been cement, for all the damage it showed after being hit with a screwdriver.

The video, filmed by agronomy consulting service Antara Agronomy and later posted to Twitter, shows a local agronomist attempting to smash and chip a block of compacted seedbed, with little result.

Side wall smearing and soil crusting played into poor emergence earlier this season, although production experts say rain has helped loosen things up and crops are bouncing back.

The field is not an anomaly. In the last few weeks, field crops in Manitoba have been fighting back from what agronomists and production specialists say was a shaky start to the season in many crops across the province.

Many widely noted compaction problems contributing to poor emergence into mid-June, particularly in the province’s heavy clay-based soil regions.

“We’ve had lots of issues with emergence this year,” Brunel Sabourin of Antara Agronomy in eastern Manitoba said in mid-June. “It started with the excess rain we had last fall. It limited the amount of field work that we could do. Some of the fields, in order to get soybeans and corn off, got rutted up pretty bad.”

Much of the field work, fertilizer application and cleanup of fall ruts fell to the spring, he noted.

“We have heavy clay soils here, so they’re not very forgiving if we work on them prior to planting in the spring,” he said.

This year, the combination of wet seeding, sudden drying and clay soils left plants struggling to establish roots against hardened side walls.

Provincial extension staff noted similar issues in their fall rye Crop Diagnostic School plots in Carman earlier this spring. Plots showed stunted root development, something extension staff suggested might be due to wet planting conditions last fall, combined with drying conditions this spring cracking open the seedbed furrows.

Some fields have had to be reseeded, Sabourin noted, although some of that has been due to wind damage, flea beetles or other stresses rather than just poor emergence.

Comeback trail

Warmer-season crops are still fighting to come back from behind after the poor start.

According to Lionel Kaskiw, farm production specialist with the province and one of the speakers during a June 24 Crop Talk webinar, crops like peas, canola and cereals were looking good (although some canola fields were still fighting flea beetles and some cereals were coming in stagey), while the season has been less kind to soybeans, corn and sunflowers.

Recent high winds have led to “some real tattered leaves, some leaves that just didn’t get the opportunity to develop under good conditions,” he said of the soybean fields he’s scouted, although he added that many of those fields were now bouncing back.

Environment and Climate Change Canada reported winds consistently over 50 kilometres an hour across the province during the first weeks of June, with some days clocking gusts of 70 kilometres an hour.

Cassandra Tkachuk, production specialist with the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, confirmed side wall smearing and problems with poor seed-to-soil contact in clay soils earlier this season.

Pulse emergence issues were not limited to those clay soils, however. Coarser-textured soils also showed poor emergence, Tkachuk said, something she says is likely due to seeding while wet.

Soil crusting was another, associated problem across the province as wet seeding conditions met with lack of spring precipitation and days of high winds, creating a hard soil crust.

Tkachuk noted that it hurt to kneel on many of the fields due to the hard soil surface earlier this year.

“I wouldn’t say in every case (of poor emergence) was from side wall smearing, although that is the case in some fields. I think it’s just general lack of time and ability to always prep the seedbed,” she said.

“It went from being really saturated in the spring to really dry,” she added. “So I think that dry period kind of slowed seeds down. There might have been some that started to imbibe water and then desiccated off.”

The Manitoba Corn Growers Association (MCGA) noted similar compaction and crusting concerns this spring.

Corn emergence was “kind of shaky,” due to the variability of ground condition, according to MCGA field agronomist Morgan Cott.

“There’s a lot of fields that are fairly compacted from last year and this spring, which creates poor or slower emergence or more uneven emergence,” she said.

Soils dried and crusted after mid-June rains, she added.

“Generally, I’m not super disappointed with it, but it’s just probably going to be an uneven crop, I think,” she said.

Manitoba’s relatively cool growing season has done little to help.

Much of the Parkland area, central Manitoba and patches of the southwest fell below 95 per cent of normal corn heat units as of June 21, according to the province, with some regions reporting as low as 83 per cent of normal.

Corn and sunflowers have both taken a hit from that cool weather, Kaskiw said.

Some corn crops had barely broken ground, he noted June 24, while most advanced crops had only reached the V5 stage.

“That’s not great for corn for this time of year,” he said.

Staging issues

Many crops that did not initially emerge started to break ground after rain arrived in mid-June, Sabourin noted, at least for those fields that avoided going under water.

Some regions of the province noted their first significant rains in June, with rainfall varying from just over 20 millimetres in the month of June in parts of western Manitoba, to several inches of rain causing flood concerns in parts of eastern Manitoba.

“We’re not seeing the hard side wall compaction,” Sabourin said in the third week of June.

Sabourin does, however, expect that patchy emergence may lead to staging issues when it comes fungicide application and harvest, however, since some parts of the field will be a week or more ahead of others in the field.

Tkachuk shares those concerns.

“Pretty much any management practices in season become more difficult with a stagier crop,” she said, although she expressed hope that flowering, triggered by the just-past summer solstice, might help close the staging gap.

About the author


Alexis Stockford

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.



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