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Screwing Up Plots… On Purpose

“Some of the winter wheat in the plots looks poor now, but it might be OK by July.”


While most farmers were headed for their fields trying to beat the rain May 12, John Heard and his colleagues were busy preparing to screw up some plots at the University of Manitoba’s Ian N. Morrison Research farm.

There’s method to their madness. They’re making mistakes on purpose to show farmers and agronomists how to avoid replicating common cropping disasters on a field scale.

It’s what they’ve been doing at the Crop Diagnostic School, a joint effort between Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) and the University of Manitoba, since 1997.

Around 6,000 people have attended the day-long school over the years learning about insect, disease and weed pests, fertility, crop rotation, inter-cropping, annual crops, perennial crops, food crops, feed crops, nutraceutical crops, organic crops, odd-ball crops and of course, how to recognize screw-ups ranging from herbicide residues, to seeding too early or too late.

“There are so many good stories to tell,” said Heard, MAFRI’s soil fertility specialist.

One of the features of this year’s diagnostic school, which runs July 7 to 10 and July 13 to 17, is perennial ryegrass, for feed and turf. It’s an unfamiliar topic to a lot of agronomists, but ryegrass seed production is increasingly finding its way into rotation with annual crops, Heard said.

Anastasia Kubinec, MAFRI’s business development specialist for oilseeds, is growing a plot of Pioneer Hi-Bred’s new sclerotinia-tolerant canola 45S51 to see how it performs. To ensure there’s enough of the fungus disease around, Kubinec said she’ll distribute sclerotia, the irregular-shaped, black fungal bodies that germinate in the summer, producing mushroom-like structures called apothecia. These, in turn, produce spores that land on canola flowers, fallen petals and pollen on canola plant stems and leaves, which then infect the plant.

Those taking part in the school will learn how to identify apothecia and how to assess the sclerotinia risk in canola.

There’s also a winter wheat plot at the farm. It will be interesting to see in July which techniques improved winter survival of the 2008-09 crop.

Last fall winter wheat was seeded at varying rates, on different dates and into stubble of different heights. The winter wheat is dead where there was no stubble. But good stubble didn’t guarantee success this year either.

“Some of the winter wheat in the plots looks poor now, but it might be OK by July,” Kim Livingston-Brown, MAFRI’s farm production adviser in Carman said. “It’s such an aggressive crop. It can still do well even if there is early stress.”

Many Manitoba farmers suspect their winter wheat is more dead than alive this year. If the plant’s crown is brown and

“There are so many good stories to tell.”


spongy, it’s dead, Livingston-Brown said. If there are more dead patches than live ones, farmers, in consultation with their crop insurance agent, must decide whether to rip it up and reseed.

“But some fields are just slow growing and aren’t dead,” she said. “If the plants are still alive they’ve got a shot.”

Farmers can inspect the winter wheat plots May 27 during an event being held here from 10 a. m. until noon.

That will be followed by a weed seedling identification workshop from 1 p. m. to 3 p. m.

For more information on this year’s Crop Diagnostic School go to

[email protected]

About the author


Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.



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