Three strategies for managing Ontario's unseeded acres

With poor spring planting conditions across Ontario, many farmers have run out of time to get major crops in the ground and thousands of acres will remain unplanted in 2019.

What should farmers do with those acres? We asked Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs weed management specialist Mike Cowbrough and RealAgriculture agronomist Peter Johnson for their recommendations. Both agree that weed control is vitally important for these acres to prevent weeds from going to seed and creating management headaches next year and potentially many years down the road.

In this video, Cowbrough says how to tackle unseeded acres depends on where you farm in the province and what your cropping plans are for this fall and next spring. He notes that cover crops can play a key role in weed suppression and also provide the flexibility to manage weeds with applications of fairly inexpensive herbicides. When it comes to cover crops,  Cowbrough likes cereals — oats, cereal rye and barley all do a nice job suppressing weed growth and reduce seed production, he says. (Story continues after the video.)

Another cover crop option is soybeans. Johnson notes many growers have bulk soybean seed that cannot be returned to seed retailers after it was dumped into a wagon. He recommends growers use it as a cover crop because soybean seed germination tends to decline significantly and the seed will not deliver sufficient germination levels if carried to next year.

Earlier this week, Johnson discussed unseeded acre strategies with RealAg Radio’s Lyndsey Smith — see interview below starting at 25:00.

Johnson emphasizes the need to plant winter wheat early this fall for the highest yield potential. When it comes to cover crops, he says peas, daikon radish, mustard and canola are all good options for setting up fields for winter wheat planting this fall.

Johnson also has a note of caution for growers planning to plant wheat this fall into cornfields that were not planted to soybeans. In these situations, growers need to do an effective job managing corn stalks, which must have contact with the ground to allow them to break down. If not, the stalks will create an increased fusarium risk that could cause headaches for wheat next summer.

With only 10 weeks to go before wheat planting begins, Cowbrough notes that some growers may feel that the timeline is tight to seed a cover crop, get it established and then terminate before wheat planting. In this scenario, another option would be timely tillage to control weeds during the summer and a burndown two weeks before planting.

Cowbrough adds that there may be cases this summer where weeds are not being controlled in unseeded acres. He says if growers see weedy, unmanaged fields that contain weeds like perennial sow thistle that could impact their property, they should contact their local municipality. Ontario’s Weed Control Act is designed to prohibit the spread of noxious weeds and growers can ask local weed inspectors to look at the property and ask the owners to take corrective action.

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