By Bernard Tobin
With just over a week to go before spring (officially), Shawn Brenneman is lamenting the fact that his tractor spent more hours pushing snow this winter than 2013 spring field work and planting combined.
With the end of Ontario’s long, cold winter finally within sight, Brenneman, Agronomic Sales Manager for Syngenta Canada, says there are several factors farmers need to consider as they head out to the fields in the weeks ahead.
“With the ice cover we’re seeing over the Great Lakes this year and the amount of snow cover we have, we’re probably looking at a delayed spring. With the type of buffering we’re going to see from the lakes and that ice melt, we’re looking at cold, wet conditions.”
So what does that mean from an agronomic perspective?
Brenneman says farmers need to make sure they have the best seed treatment they can get this year. “Make sure you’ve got a great fungicide package on your soybeans, especially — that will make sure we limit the amount of damping off and early-season diseases.”
2014 is shaping up to be a big soybean year and the number of acres could continue to swell depending on the shape of Ontario’s winter wheat crop, adds Brad Garlough, another Syngenta agronomist whose territory includes Grey, Bruce, Wellington and Waterloo counties.
“Any wheat that was planted after the Thanksgiving weekend looked relatively marginal and had quite a bit of moisture on it going into winter,” says Garlough, noting that the crop then had to contend with the December ice storm. “To me, farmers are really going to have to focus on getting out to check those fields, assessing the stands, and looking for populations that are going to optimize your yield. Then it’s decision time on whether you will be money ahead by planting soybeans or corn.”
Brenneman adds that heavy snow in many areas brings potential for snow mould in winter wheat. “That’s a concern for a lot of areas, so again it’s important to get out early and assess your stand to determine winter kill; what are the impacts of snow mould and whether you need to replant.”
Before recent market rallies, Syngenta had predicted Ontario could see soybeans acres grow by 20 per cent in 2014 and that number could go even higher, says Garlough. “I see a lot of soybean acres coming from ripped up wheat acres or non-planted wheat acres.”
A big challenge for growers this spring will be to avoid looking at the calendar and have the patience to wait until their ground is fit for planting
Brenneman says he hears the odd conversation where growers might be shifting from corn to soybeans. “But most growers really value a long-term rotation and see the benefits a good rotation brings to immediate and short-term crops, and also what a rotation brings to the farm over the years.”
A big challenge for growers this spring will be to avoid looking at the calendar and have the patience to wait until their ground is fit for planting.
“The benefits of early panting in corn and soybeans is well documented,” notes Brenneman. “You’re going to get earlier flowering, yield increases and better canopy closure, especially in soybeans.
But farmers need to make sure their seedbed is very well prepared. Don’t mud that crop in or plant it in those cold, wet soils if you can avoid it because all the benefits from the early planting will be negated.”
Garlough says there are lessons to be learned from 2013’s wet spring. “Farmers did not win the yield challenge by planting early and mudding it in. Some of the late-planted corn that was the right daylength was some of the higher yielding corn and soybeans, so plant when your field is fit because that trumps any other card you can play.”
Garlough also notes that there are some rough-looking fields under that blanket of snow. “The no-till situation for 2014 doesn’t look too promising. There’s quite a few ruts from the combine.” In his area, farmers were still working to get white beans off in November and soybeans fields were still standing in December.
“A little bit of iron this year is going to go a long way to getting things levelled off and making a good seedbed. That’s another point that may contribute to later planting — farmers may have to work in some tillage,” adds Garlough.