Drought was top of mind as agronomists and farmers took part in the first day of this year’s Crop Diagnostic School — call-in show style.
Provincial experts took turns answering questions submitted before or during the online event on June 8, the first webinar of eight stretching to the end of July.
One participant asked what to think about when spraying in hot, dry conditions — and if the experts had seen biostimulants or stress-relief products actually help.
Provincial weed specialist Kim Brown-Livingston said she’d heard reports of crop damage from the last week as some producers were forced to spray in the heat. They might see plants whitening or burnt leaf tips.
“Not a lot you can do about that now,” said Brown-Livingston. “You’re just going to have to let it grow through that… most times the crops do recover.”
As for biostimulants, Brown-Livingston suggested that money was best used elsewhere. She said she’s seen evidence of those products working in greenhouses, but not in outdoor, uncontrolled environments.
“I’m really not a fan of spending money somewhere on something that might work or could work when I know there’s places we could spend our money on things that will work,” she said.
Someone else asked about thin and uneven wheat stands they’d seen. They’d seen seeds leafing out below ground, some with either no roots or shoots, and others that were fine.
The cause might trace back to more nitrogen placed with the seeds than they’d like to see, said crop nutrition specialist John Heard. This is tough for agronomists to verify as most farmers don’t leave check strips, he added.
“I do know it’s been a very stressful growing season, obviously with the dry conditions, so I have seen some cereal crops that are quite thin,” said cereal crop specialist Anne Kirk.
She said seeds may have begun to germinate but didn’t have enough moisture to continue, or they may have been seeded at uneven depths.
Kirk said when seeing low plant stands producers should consider how comfortable they are with keeping them, as it’s pretty late to reseed. If the crop gets moisture and conditions are good, it should still have a good yield, depending on how many tillers the plants produce.
Entomologist John Gavloski took a moment to celebrate national insect appreciation day by sharing barbecue-flavoured cricket snacks with colleagues before answering questions about likely summer pests.
Grasshoppers do well in hot, dry conditions, he said. They also have fewer options to feed on.
“In a dry year you don’t have as much naturalized vegetation in the landscape,” he said. “So they’re in your crops more.”
Flea beetles also like hot, dry and calm conditions, he said.
On the positive side, Gavloski said wheat and sunflower midges need a certain amount of moisture in May to emerge in June otherwise they may stay in the soil. Root maggots are also less of a concern.
The audience question format is an attempt to recreate some of the person-to-person interaction of past, in-person Crop Diagnostic Schools, said provincial soil management specialist Marla Riekman.
The event is usually held over two weeks and reaches between 400 and 500 people, said Riekman. Each session hosts a maximum of 75 people who run through topics of weeds, soil, diseases, insects and different commodities.
Last year the event was forced online by the COVID-19 pandemic. Participants said they liked the video format, said Riekman, but they missed interacting with experts.
“What we’re trying to do is, basically offer what people are asking for and give them the information that they need in real time,” Riekman said. “Things change a lot from week to week so we need to be able to have that interaction, be able to answer the questions of the current crisis or current issue that’s happening in the field.”
The Tuesday morning half-hour sessions will be posted to Manitoba Agriculture and Resource Development’s YouTube channel for after-the-fact viewing.
The sessions will run to the end of July, but if demand remains high they may continue into August.
Agronomists and producers are invited to submit questions in advance to [email protected], or they may ask questions in real time via either the webinar platform’s chat function or ‘raising their hand.’