What a difference a year makes. Back in spring 2015, Ontario farmers were scrambling to manage an abundance of corn stalk residue and grappling with questions about tillage and how to fix fields full of ruts caused by a challenging harvest.
Fast forward to spring 2016 and farmers are facing a much more favourable planting environment, explains Prides Seeds market agronomist Dan Foster. “Last spring we had a lot of corn stalks to deal with. This year, those corn stalks are going to be very mature and blow to pieces in no-till soybeans. That’s something we haven’t seen in the last couple years. Soybeans really struggled last year through the month of June. But this year we should have good conditions for no-till soybeans.”
Overall, the mild winter, and what appears to be an early spring, have set the stage for an early planting season in Ontario. That means farmers will require a solid crop plan and need to be ready to move quickly should field conditions continue to progress at their current rate.
At the London Farm Show earlier this month, Foster and fellow Pride agronomist, Ken Currah, joined Real Agriculture to discuss some of the key factors farmers need to consider as planting approaches.
Foster says cultivators will be rolling early this year and it’s important to ensure they are set up properly. “Take a few extra minutes and make sure that cultivator is level,” he advises. “Tillage is just as important as the planter and a poor tillage job can have a major impact for your crop.”
Whether farmers are using vertical tillage, a standard S-tine or C shank cultivator, residue distribution is key, notes Currah. Residue distribution was a huge problem for farmers in 2015, especially fields that were hit by a late-May frost. In many areas, uneven residue distribution contributed to mechanical issues that led to poor seed placement that left seedlings vulnerable to frost.
With warm temperatures and no snow, Foster says it’s important for farmers to be wary of soil compaction. Many livestock farmers spread manure early last fall and will be looking to get manure out quickly this spring. “When that top layer appears white and you can make dust fly, many times, it’s not fit underneath and that’s when these soils are in their most compactable state,” says Currah. “The key word with compaction is patience.”
Currah recommends that farmers take a look at new tire deflation technology now available for tractor and tanker tires to help mitigate the impact of early travel. “There’s a lot of technology coming along to address what is really becoming a pertinent issue in livestock country,” he adds.
The good weather has also given seed companies the opportunity to deliver seed earlier than usual. That gives farmers a great opportunity to assess seed weights and determine the proper planter setting for each variety. “Understand your planter, understand the seed that’s been shipped to you and how to get set up for it. That helps you get the uniform seed drop and uniform stand,” says Currah.
2016 is the first year Ontario farmers will have to abide by the province’s new regulations that limit the use of neonicotinoid seed treatments for corn and soybean seed. Foster notes that it’s important for growers to have their paperwork set up to ensure they are following the regulations. “You’ll need copies of your paperwork in the planter, copies for the seed rep and copies for yourself.”
Foster suggests farmers should also spend time thinking about their nitrogen program. “We saw huge advantages to late nitrogen last year. There are lots of options out there, but you need to have a plan,” stresses Foster. Working with retailers who can get N applied in-crop, whether spreading urea or using Y drops, is a good idea, says Currah. “Your retailer needs to know your plan, especially if you are counting on custom application. Retailers need to have product in place and the logistical wherewithal to get the job done for you.”
Both Currah and Foster encourage farmers to try new management approaches this year. If you are new to late nitrogen, one of the key points emerging during winter meetings is that a combined late nitrogen and foliar fungicide application can work very effectively, notes Currah.
Overall, the agronomists believe uniform emergence should be farmers’ primary goal when they head to the field. To reach that objective, Foster has some simple advice: plant when your soil is fit; don’t worry about the date; and don’t worry about your neighbours.