Bob Bartley started seeding hard red spring wheat April 23, and finished the following day after completing two quarters.
Now, following a late-spring storm through much of agro-Manitoba, he’s awaiting Mother Nature and the calendar.
“Now I’m going to take a holiday,” he said with a laugh April 25 during an interview.
“Now that we got the wheat in I’m looking more at the calendar and the coolness. I think it’s too early for canola and flax because there’s too big a risk for frost. For corn it’s too early for it too because it doesn’t like that under 50 F (10 C) soil temperature for starting out.”
Bartley wasn’t alone. Farmers in most parts of agro-Manitoba were “scratching” the dirt last week, but field work was most advanced in the south-central area, Dane Froese, Manitoba Agriculture oilseed specialist, said in an interview.
The main exceptions due to wetter fields were eastern areas, the top of the Pembina Escarpment and Swan River Valley, he said.
(Some fields near the Red River south of Winnipeg are flooded.)
“I’d say we have 15 to 20 per cent of our guys started,” Jason Voogt, owner of Field 2 Field Agronomy Inc., which operates in the south-central region, said in an interview April 26. “It varies slightly by region.
“Right now it has been some wheat, oats, barley and peas that have gone in. There has been the odd guy who has put in some canola and corn too.”
Cereals and peas are more tolerant to cool soils and frost.
Voogt said seeding started this year just slightly earlier than normal.
“The challenge we get into now is guys can get so much down so quickly, depending on rotations and if they don’t have a lot of cereals then all of a sudden they are caught to canola,” he said.
Frost isn’t the only risk to early-seeded canola, Voogt said. Seed treatments are effective in controlling flea beetles for only so long and the clock starts ticking as soon as the seed is in the ground. If germination is delayed due to cool soil temperatures the newly emerged canola is more susceptible to predation.
Moreover, the striped flea beetle, which is more aggressive and emerges earlier, has replaced the black (crucifer) flea beetle, he said.
Soil temperatures varied last week around the province, but many areas were around 7 C two inches down, Timi Ojo, Manitoba Agriculture’s ag meteorology specialist, said in an interview April 26.
Many fields in the south-central region were dry enough to carry seeding equipment, but had good moisture below.
“It’s ideal conditions to seed, and we want to take advantage of the early moisture, but there is a frost risk to be mindful of as well,” Ojo said.
For example, at Altona and Arborg there’s a 50 per cent chance of frost after May 12 and May 22, respectively, according to a slide prepared by Ojo.
There’s just a 10 per cent chance after May 26 and June 3.
Between last Nov. 1 and April 22, agro-Manitoba was drier and colder than normal, he said. However, thanks to rains last September and October, two-thirds of agro-Manitoba have adequate soil moisture rated at 80 to 100 per cent of water-holding capacity, he said.
“There’s good moisture in the ground now so if we can get the crop started it will last quite awhile before we really need those timely rains,” Bartley said.
“If we could get a couple of inches of rain over the next week that would be just great.”
At press time expected precipitation and cooler temperatures had materialized as forecast, which will help further replenish subsoil moisture.
“The soil temperature, surprisingly, is not bad,” Voogt said. “Moisture has been pretty good overall. But there are pockets where… it’s not as wet as I thought it was. We definitely have better moisture than last year. We should get more even germination this time around, but we’re certainly not long on it (moisture) that’s for sure.”
There was enough moisture and heat last week to get some weeds out of the ground, including kochia, lamb’s quarters, prostrate knotweed, mallow, wild buck- wheat and volunteer canola, Voogt said.
Perennials such as dandelion and Canada thistle have emerged too, Manitoba Agriculture weed specialist Tammy Jones said in an interview April 24.
A dry spring helps the winter annuals and deep-rooted perennials get a jump on spring-seeded crops, she said. Last fall many farmers were focused on anhydrous ammonia applications and other things and didn’t get a chance to do fall weed control, Jones added.
“A pre-seed burn-off certainly is important with those early-germinating weeds because by the time you get to an in-crop herbicide application, they’re probably out of that stage,” she said.
Those weeds will be too big to be controlled with the in-crop product, she said. For farmers who are in no-till systems, or those trying to conserve their soil moisture, that will mean a pre-seeding application.
Like all farmers, Bartley hopes Canadian canola seed exports to China resume soon. China stopped importing Canadian canola in March, complaining it was contaminated with weed seeds and plant diseases — an allegation that doesn’t match samples inspected by the Canadian Food Inspection agency.
“We have lots of other things to worry about other than that,” he said. From the vagaries of Mother Nature to the uncertainty of grain prices and the challenges of marketing the crop, there are always uncertainties, he said.
“There are so many things we don’t know in agriculture, but we keep doing it every year,” Bartley said.
“We just hope there aren’t too many hailstorms or big rainfall events. It sure would be nice to have the perfect year. The way the economy is there is no room for a bad crop. It would put a lot of guys in trouble. We just plant a crop and hope for the best every year.”
Bartley said what weighs more on his mind are the perceptions non-farmers have about modern agriculture. Agriculture in the Classroom is a program aimed at addressing that, he added.
“When it comes to the production of food it is hard for us to fathom how little is known off of the farm about where food comes from.”