Wednesday 28 November 2018

Blockchain in Western Canadian Agriculture

Blockchain has been a popular topic in all industries for what seems like forever; this past year investors, bankers, computer programmers, real estate agents and more have not been able to get away from this term and some form of impact on their daily activities. Farmers aren’t exempt either. There is a growing buzz about the use of blockchain technology in farming, agri-business and food. But what is blockchain? What trend is pushing us towards blockchain use in western Canadian agriculture? What companies will allow blockchain to be used in western Canadian agriculture? What does this mean for farmers?

What is Blockchain?
The generic definition is:
"an open, distributed ledger that can record transactions between two parties efficiently and in a verifiable and permanent way”, but for a much better explanation an article from Investopedia does a great job explaining the fundamentals of  blockchain.

Essentially, what blockchain does is decentralizes information which brings down costs, increases efficiency, accuracy and privacy of information flow. It does this by eliminating middle men, paperwork, and human error.

Is blockchain perfect? Far from it. Does it have limitations? For sure. Is it a tool that is supportive of achieving better possible outcomes for many industries, including farms, agribusiness and food? I would say yes.  

What key trend is pushing western Canadian ag towards blockchain?

There are many trends, but the one I want to highlight for the sake of this overview is traceability. There are other trends such as data management and more, but the scope of blockchain application can often go down many bunny trails which I will aim to avoid today.

Traceability – The primary trend driving blockchain research and use in agriculture that I will focus on today is traceability efficiency; consumer demand for better understanding of where their food came from is one component that has been ever growing and continued. People want to know where their food came from and blockchain is a tool to support that. On top of this, traceability from the retailer and food processor/supplier side as well to get ahead of the potential food safety outbreaks. There is an often referenced story from Wal Mart taking upwards of 7 days to go through the process of identifying where a food source came from down to 2.2 seconds all because of blockchain implementation; this can be the difference between one casualty or sickness outbreak and 10 or 20 or more unnecessary deaths/sicknesses.  Wal Mart has made it mandatory by September 2019 that all their lettuce/spinach suppliers have implemented blockchain use into their operation through the IBM blockchain solution..

This use has been an even hotter topic as of late due to the e coli outbreak in lettuce that has been prevalent the last week or so.

Now, in western Canadian agriculture we aren’t producing lettuce or spinach – we are primarily producing small grains, which typically aren’t fraught with human safety consumption issues. However, we are producing grains that have a strong demand for gluten free, glyphosate free and organic (note: Regardless of how myself or others feel about them, these are further trends with in agriculture pushing towards the potential use of blockchain). By this I am referencing oats most specifically. Companies like General Mills and Grain Millers have seen the demand for these types of products increase significantly over the last number of years and with that bring  challenges in ensuring the products are verifiable.

This sounds interesting until considering the practical application of tracking and getting millions upon millions of tiny 0.037gram seeds onto the blockchain comes into play. Is this even possible?
It is now.
What companies will make blockchain practical in western Canadian agriculture?  

Many companies are working hard at making blockchain tools that apply to western Canadian agriculture. At a macro level  organizations like IBM have platforms and even the “ABCD’s” of agriculture have announced they are working to streamline components of their businesses with blockchain (that’s another article one day!).  But specific to the example used above, is there one out there?

SafeTraces has been around since 2013, but has really started to take in funding the last couple of years. They have been invested in by many organizations, one specifically being Bunge.

SafeTraces manufactures biological tracers, or invisible, edible, odorless, and tasteless barcodes that can be directly applied to many foods, including grains. Food processors and other parties handling food in the supply chain can spray SafeTraces’ seaweed-based DNA tag on individual foods  so that their source and qualities can be traced and verified throughout the supply chain. The markers can be read with specific barcode readers that have a traceability tool within them. The cost is around $2USD per tonne for the barcodes to be applied.

This technology can be applied specifically to oats. To my knowledge, it isn’t being used in western Canadian agriculture today, but it does have the potential down the line and may be something that is tested in the coming years – potentially in conjunction with blockchain technology.

What does this mean for the western Canadian farmer?

First and foremost, it means that you will continue to hear more about blockchain. In this specific instance, will it cost or make you money? While it remains to be seen, the reality is that some cases it may make you more efficient and cut out costs to your operation, whereas in other instances it may mean the case for an incremental cost to utilize the blockchain platform or technology that enables blockchain use within your operation.

Blockchain implementation  from a western Canadian perspective is still not main stream across the  prairies, but I believe as farmers and industry professionals we need to stay on top of how blockchain can and is being applied so that we can be at the forefront of implementing it to best supports farmers and the industry as a whole.  

Note: There are many applications of blockchain, such as smart contracts, data management and more.
Here are a couple links for reference:

Sunday 18 November 2018

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agronomists

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Agronomists

The demand for agronomists in the agriculture industry is growing every single day. Producing profitable crops while minimizing a farmers risk and benefitting their operation in the long term is getting more and more complex every year. Whether it be new crop protection products, agronomic practices, machinery/equipment, technology and more, there is always something new to be considering or to be utilizing to ensure farmers are getting the support they need to successfully climb through the agronomic landscape.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People is a wildly popular self enhancement book from the late 80’s by Stephen Covey that has sold more than 25 million copies.  My goal is to take the principles as he stated them and talk about them with an agronomic twist. 

1.       Be Proactive – Being in a reactive state no matter the situation typically puts us at a disadvantage. No different in agronomy. Always lay out a plan to not only help yourself, but help the farmer have highest chance of success. A plan doesn’t mean you won’t have to be reactionary some of the time, but it allows you to stay ahead of situations and mitigate potential misses or oversights.  

a.       Examples:  Laying out a crop plan by crop input product, rate etc in the winter months.

b.      Laying out a spray plan by field  to insure farmers have  your thoughts on which fields need to take priority, whether it be insecticides, fungicides, herbicides or something else.

c.       Planning your day or week out  for field scouting in season based on a pre determined criteria, such as time of year, staging, NDVI or historical problem areas.

2.       Begin with the End in Mind – On a yearly basis, a highly effective agronomist is always working to understand what a farmer’s yield and profitability targets are. From there you always have the ability to develop a plan to optimize for these targets. This doesn’t need to be constrained to simply yield and profitability on a yearly basis, it could be with the aim to clean up the field from a weed perspective, build soil nutrient reserves or even to help plan for a longer term farm management plan such as controlled traffic farming for example. As an agronomist, you always want to know what the farmers goals and targets are; without them it makes being effective a much more difficult task. Identifying opportunities for the farmer or coming up with ideas for them will only help your cause.

3.       Put First Things First – There are many different components to agronomy and farming that can distract from some of the foundations of a strong, profitable crop. At the end of the day, there are some basics that should never be compromised and then you can build from there:

a.       Soil Testing and Understanding

b.    Seeding depth

c.      Seed and fertilizer placement

d.       Seed/Fertilizer rate

e.      Varietal selection

EDIT: Timing is also a key base consideration. Whether talking herbicide timing, when to spray, when to seed and more. Thanks to Wes Anderson for his comment around this. 

                Now, there are many important factors to helping a farmer grow a successful crop, but if these aspects haven’t been optimized it makes it much more difficult for any other tools, such as additional fertilizer, herbicides, fungicides, biostimulants etc. to get that crop to the top end of yield and profitability.

4.       Think Win-Win – Thinking win-win is a great habit to get into all of the time. When talking win-win within agronomy it should be looked at with the mindset that you are making an effective recommendation that maximizes profits for the short term (eg: that year), but doesn’t constrain options or profitability the following year (or longer term even). In agronomy there are many scenario’s that require a solution that isn’t ideal for the following year (eg: herbicide option with residual).  As best as possible always be looking for options that set the next year up for success as well as the current year.

5.       Seek First to Understand – Always focus on understanding the root cause of a problem in the field, not just the implication of the problem. What I mean by this is getting to the bottom of every single situation that is happening in a field. For example, a common problem in cereals is lodging. It’s easy to blame the variety, but don’t make the simple call without first knowing what else might be going on. Is it only occurring in a specific area of the field? Is there a nutrient deficiency like potassium? Is there excessive nutrients like nitrogen in that area? Was there a seeding rate issue? Could it be from mechanical issues with the seeder in that area? The list could go on. Always ensure you understand what the root cause is, utilizing the tools you have at your disposal to confirm what is actually happening. The best way to understand the root cause? Get in the field! Effective agronomists don’t diagnose from the road or their computer, they get down and dirty, literally.

6.       Synergize – The best agronomists continually network and develop relationships with other agronomists, farmers, industry experts (entomologists, pathologists etc), technical representative from life science/fertilizer companies and don’t limit yourself to your given geography. We live in a global economy and work in a global industry, even though it may seem crazy to apply what is being done in Brazil in Canada for example, it actually might be extremely relevant. Integrative thinking or taking the best from 2 different ideas, can be another way to synergize and obtain best possible outcomes and results; something many of the best agronomists do with ease. Working with others is going to make all agronomists more effective and ultimately support making farmers more successful in the long run.

7.       Sharpen the Saw – My favourite, and probably the most important part of being a highly effective agronomist is constant improvement. The bests agronomists are always learning – whether it’s reading journal articles, updates from industry resources, listening to podcasts, scavenging the internet for articles or simply scrolling twitter; there is always something new to learn that will make you more effective in the future. One concept I find extremely fascinating is applying the “half-life” concept from science to knowledge and information. Much of what we know today will change at some point in the future, which is why we need to constantly learn and update our understandings and approaches. For example, the “half-life” of something like the law of gravity is actually very long, whereas the half-life of what is in the news today is very short; in other words, gravity is still going to be relevant next year, but Trump’s most recent tweet? Probably not so much. This is why the best agronomists continually learn - things change.

While certain industry standards are 40 hours of learning every 2 years for the Certified Crop Advisor’s or 35 hours per year for provincial institute of agrology I would argue that’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the best agronomists out there. My suggestion is to attempt >100 hours per year. That essentially works out to 2 hours per week. Sounds like a lot? That’s just 20 minutes per day!

Never stop learning!

   For agronomists wanting to improve these are some of the basics that  are a great start. For any farmers, if you are looking for an agronomist or wanting to work with one, these are some basics that can help you determine if they are going to be a valuable fit for your operation.

I will be writing  follow ups elaborating on some other aspects the most effective agronomists  excel in as well as my thoughts on what I think will make an agronomist successful 10 and even 20 years into the future.

Want me to elaborate more on any of the habits? Comment or shoot me a tweet on Twitter or Instagram at @ShaneAgronomy. Thanks for reading.

Sunday 29 July 2018

Plant Growth Regulators: Does Size Matter?

Plant Growth Regulator’s: Does Size Matter?

Plant growth regulators (PGR’s) are one of the sey new topics to discuss in western Canadian agriculture. I have been at a large number of farm tours with PGR’s this July, talked to many people in the industry and heard a lot of conversations and everyone seems to be talking or asking about “how much did Manipulator shorten the crop?”, or “It’s hardly shorter than the untreated”. We are all drawn to first order implications that are inherently visual, but in order to get the most out of plant growth regulators this shouldn’t be the primary focus and (typically) the addition of PGR’s shouldn’t be the only practice that changes within a field. It’s what this shortening and increase in stem thickness allows you to more intensively manage that is the real golden ticket. The point of applying PGR’s isn’t the fact that your crop is shorter, it’s what that allows you to do for your operation in terms of yield, efficiency and overall profit. Size (shortening) doesn’t matter, it’s how you use and manage within that shortening that truly matters, and there are a few factors that can be managed to take advantage.

 When I mention plant growth regulators, I am specifically talking the gibberellic acid inhibitors that have begun to get a lot more attention now that the maximum residue limit (MRL) has been set for Manipulator (chlormequat chloride) and Moddus (trinexepac ethyl) that will be on the market from Syngenta in the next couple of years.

PGR’s need to be utilized from a holistic agronomic perspective, not in a silo. They are a tool that support the entire management of your crop and can help you make decisions that support other aspects of your agronomic needs.

Here are 3 key areas PGR’s allow you to more intensively manage:

  1. Fertilizer rates - This isn’t limited to nitrogen, but without getting overly specific lets focus on nitrogen. Incremental nitrogen can hinder stand ability of cereal crops, which means if you are in search of higher yields, lodging can be a real concern. Knowing you are planning on utilizing a PGR presents a prime opportunity to look at your nitrogen rates and whether they match the uptake unit per bushel of your target yield, or allow you to go back to your target yield and push that for higher output. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not saying put more N down for the sake of putting down N, but knowing you are utilizing a PGR allows you to re-address your fertility rates. If you want to get even more high-tech, you could even get into imagery, zones and look into variable application, but that topic is for another time.
  2. Seeding rate is another agronomic piece that a growth regulator allows you to manage. Targeting an optimal number of plants, and therefor heads/tillers for your area can allow you to further enhance your yield. Many cereals still get seeded by the bushel, or a generic pound per acre rate. Not the optimal way of working backwards from your target plant/head per square foot, meter or acre. What I typically see is a lower than optimal seeding rate “to avoid lodging”. This means you could be leaving yield and quality in the field and making timings for fusarium head blight fungicide or insecticidal applications more difficult than they need to be. I’m not saying crank your seeding rate up because you are using a PGR, I am simply saying knowing you will be using one gives you the added confidence to hit those higher target plant stands to maximize yield and quality without the fear your cereal is going to lose it’s legs.
  3. Varieties - The variety you select to grow every year is an important decision. Yield, disease resistance, height, lodging resistance, days to maturity are all factors that need to be considered. The reality is that a lot of the time there are varieties that are great fits, but they have one downfall for your area. This is where a tool like a PGR comes in. Maybe there is a variety that has the majority of the qualities you are looking for, such as good disease package and high yield potential, but it always loses it’s legs and is a nightmare to combine. A strategic plant growth regulator can allow you to manage this varietal downfall and increase the output on your farm. A caveat to this is we know certain varieties react differently to PGR’s. However, at the very least applying a PGR gives you the ability to approach your crop plan without pigeon holing yourself into one specific variety.

It’s sexy to be able to show that your PGR shortened your crop by 5”, but you know what’s sexier? Being able to combine your crop at 1.5mph faster while using less fuel to chop through the straw and have less trash for your next years seedlings to grow through. That is another way of measuring “response” to a PGR. Shortening a crop doesn’t make you more money – more bushels, better quality, and increased efficiency do. PGR’s will support that, but let’s just make sure that’s the discussion point vs. simply talking about crop height.

When you roll into your field of PGR’s this fall or begin planning for 2019 crops, be sure to consider all of the above factors when approaching your use decision.

Wednesday 16 January 2013

Becoming an Agronomist

Over the past month or so I received some messages from some high school and university individuals who are curious about becoming agronomists. The questions have ranged from “What makes a good agronomist?”, “Do I have enough experience?”, “What schools are good?” and more. I also saw a tweet from @trouttroller (Jack Payne), an agronomy instructor at Olds College that got me thinking too. Before I start, I want to say I am probably not the best person to answer this, being a new agronomist myself, there are probably more qualified people, but I’ll give my 2 cents on what I did to learn more, what i think is important  and what others have told me is important, and hopefully some comments from other individuals will come along as well. 

The first question I wanted to touch on is one I got asking if they were experienced enough to even consider going into an agronomy program. My answer is, if there was a qualification to get into the agronomy profession I definitely wouldn’t have qualified. The only interest I had in agronomy up until 4 years ago was climbing on the chemical boxes when I was a kid (my dad works for Viterra). If you were to tell me 5 years ago I would work in the Ag Industry I would have laughed and walked away, if you told my friends and family they probably would have laughed even harder. The day before I started my first scout job the only thing I knew was that you wanted to kill dandelions (seriously). So to put it simply, NO, there is no experience needed before considering majoring in agronomy. You get a basis in school and the real experience will come in the summers, and acquiring more experience wont stop until you are retired. Just to touch quickly on the school question, obviously there are the strong schools like the University of Saskatchewan, Alberta and Manitoba in Western Canada and University of Guleph in Ontario. But I think at the end of the day school choice is what you make of it. You do more learning in your summers and spare time than in school a lot of the time. Plus, I look at someone who is a well respected agronomist like Steve Larocque who went to the University of Lethbridge (and Olds College I believe), a school which isnt considered strong in agriculture necessarily. I went to  Lethbridge College and the University of Lethbridge personally and will say the College was a great experience and wouldn’t tell anyone to write off going to a 2 year diploma program (most have the option for University after anyways).

The next thing I got asked is “What makes a good agronomist?”. This is going to be answered differently by anyone you ask, and Im probably going to miss some things cause it isnt one simple characteristic or trait, but here are some things I consider important. The first thing I notice about good agronomists is that they are curious. They want to continually learn, ask questions, ask why, talk to new people, cross reference information, dig deeper and more. The one thing I have realized is the more I learn, the less I seem to know.  It always seems like once I learn something I find myself with more questions to try and explain why. It is a constant circle and one of the reasons I love agronomy so much. Next, being observant is something I notice in good agronomists. My first boss with Cargill, Scott Knutt, taught me how important this is. When you are in the field, don’t take anything for granted, check things, dig them up, ask questions, google it etc. Scott always seemed to know how certain varieties for example would react to certain situations. Things like that can only be noted by physically being in the field and paying close attention to even the most miniscule thing. It doesn’t have to be just varieties either, noting soil texture variance in the field or crop turgor after certain weather events and more can go a long way to helping you understand why a plant may be doing what it is doing, and end up helping you solve a problem later on. Lastly, I think passion is what seperates a good agronomist from an average one. The people I learn the most from are the ones who love agronomy, are happy to help you, excited to be there enhancing grower yields and their knowledge base. You could add in problem solver, people person, organized and more as well, but those are my top 3.

The last question, or better termed, concern, that was brought to me was a young guy saying its tough to gain experience. Not meaning necessarily a job was tough to come by, but the same concern I had in that there was a feeling of being “behind”  when starting and knowing you cant just fast forward to the next growing season right away so its tough to continually learn. Here are a few of the things I did when I was a summer student to soak in as much experience and knowledge as humanly possible in a short period of time:

First thing I did was make up fake, but possible situations, research them and then write down a solution and give it to my boss (Scott) to give me feedback on. I would do this with rotation examples a lot to really understand why you want a rotation a certain way. I also made up cards with a bunch of different weeds and weed stages, would pull 3-7, then pull a card with a crop and stage on it and go through the Crop Protection Guide figuring out possible herbicides and tank mix options, write them down and then go ask which would be the best and why. This lead into learning which actives were stronger on certain weeds or species (eg: Lontrel (clopyralid) products on Canada Thistle), crop safety etc. I did this with fungicides and diseases, insects and insecticides, seed treatments and diseases and the list goes on.

Next thing I would do is study something, then go to a field and search high and low for it and not allow myself to head home until it was found. I remember reading about Cereal Leaf Beatle and going to a field by Bow Island and deciding I am not leaving till I find the larvae, the beetle and some damage. I also did it with diseases like rust and Sclerotinia too. This keeps you in the field searching and a lot of the time finding other new things. Another rule I had was you cant leave a field without making a new observation, whether it be the effect of deep seeding on wheat vigor early season or a varieties height later in the season. Going touring later on in the summer (Late July-August)  is prime time for doing something like this.

Lots of the time it is easy to just ask questions when you don’t know something. But make  it a goal to try and get atleast an idea of what something is before asking a question. This usually involves flipping through numerous books and is quite time consuming. Lots of the time it was tough to find things when starting out, but as I kept flipping through books looking for weeds for example, you take notice of the ones you aren’t looking for too and low and behold you eventually run into those weeds and say “hey I saw that last week when I was looking for milkweed, that’s Canada fleabane”. That extra time you take searching isnt wasted, it eventually pays off. With all that said, it is still good to sometimes take in things like weeds to confirm or get more info cause generally those older, experienced agronomists have fun facts like where it typically grows, what kills it etc. I have a number of other “games” I used to make up to try and learn more, but those were some of the ones I think I got the most value out of. Make up your own, everyone learns differently so keep that in mind.

Hopefully some aspiring agronomists gained something out of this and especially the individuals that asked me the questions. The last thing I want to say is simply try and learn a couple new things every day whether it be from reading, scouting or talking to a farmer about his year and asking a question like how his Lillian wheat was to harvest compared to his Waskada for example. There will always be something new to learn when it comes to agronomy, sooner you realize that, the better off you’ll be.

Monday 26 November 2012

2013 New Product Line Up

Every year there are new products released from the chemical companies, sometimes these products are tough to keep up with. Now a days a lot of the time you will see old products just topped up with a new active ingredient that has just gotten registered in Canada. Going into the growing season it is always useful to have a handle on what is out there and how it can help your operation. I’ll go over some of the new products that have been registered in Western Canada for the 2013 growing season.
BASF is releasing a couple new products this year, one seed treatment and one foliar fungicide. The seed treatment is Insure and what it has going for it is the same active ingredient as Headline, pyraclostrobin (fung group 11). The other actives in this product are triticonazole (fung. gr. 3) which is strong on fusarium species such as seedling blights and metalaxyl (fung group 4) which is excellent on pythium species of root rots. The pyraclostrobin component of this seed treatment will give some of the plant health benefits known with strobilurin fungicides (gr 11) including increased cold tolerance in the spring, giving your crop a better chance against those May frosts. This is done, in short, by creating a healthier plant that allows for a higher degree brix (sugar content in plant) which is more tolerant to freezing. Pyraclostrobin also beefs up the activity on most of our seedling disease species such fusarium, cochliobus and some others. In trials this year, I did notice a little more “pop up” effect or vigor compared to the competitor treatment,  about a 2 day faster emergence give or take half a day. Note: The pyraclostrobin is a different type of concentration than what you would buy in Headline, potentially being toxic to seed for anyone who was thinking about just buying Gemini or the like and throwing the Headline in.
Next, BASF has a new foliar fungicide called Priaxor DS. This product is a combination of Headline (pyraclostrobin, gr 11) and an active which BASF coined “Xemium” (fluxapyroxad, gr 7). This product is meant for use in pulses to control anthracnose, aschochyta as well as suppress white mould, and can be especially effective on chickpeas when you are applying 3+ fungicide applications, resistance to strobilurins can be an issue, this product really helps out there. I have seen it in trials the past two years with some great results, not just against the check, but against other products such as Headline. I have personally seen as high as 6bu/ac increase in Peas over a check and 3bu/ac increase over Headline in Lentils over the past couple of years (Note:  these may have been different rates of active ingredient vs. what is registered for the 2013 season). Some of the benefits of fluxapyroxad is the increased Ascochyta activity over and above what the pyraclostrobin already offers. It also offers some suppression of white mould as well. The length of protection is also supposed to be slightly longer than Headline by itself. Lastly, resistance to strobilurins is a real concern, having a group 7 fungicide can go a long way in fighting this concern and lengthening the shelf life of the strobilurin fungicides in Canada.
Couple more notes on BASF products, Twinline (metconazole+pyraclostrobin) fungicide for cereals will be available in larger quantities vs. being limited supply in 2012. Lastly, Viper ADV (imazamox+bentazon) will now be available in a pre mix liquid form, where as prior it was a granular and a liquid. Note: UAN (28-0-0) will still be separate.
Syngenta has came out with a new active ingredient known as sedaxane which they have put into their Cruiser Max product line. I will mainly touch on the cereal Cruiser Max line, but this new active will also be in their Pulse line up for sure. It will also be added into their Helix Vibrance seed treatment on canola. Rhizoctonia has been a growing concern for root disease in Western Canadian soils for the past little while and this active is one of the best on it. There are a number of different AG groups (essentially different “pathogenicity” groups or different sub species within the rhizoctonia family) in western Canadian soils and this product is strong on some of the most commonly occurring species. Another note is that one knock against using Dividend or Cruiser Max Cereals from Syngenta in the past is the lack of True Loose Smut control, sedaxane fixes this problem. Other actives in this product include difenconazole, metalaxyl and thiamethoxam (insecticide). It will be known as Cruiser Max Vibrance Cereals.

Final note, Syngenta will also be releasing their fusarium head blight fungicide in larger quantities this year. Their product is called Fuse with the same active ingredient as Folicur from Bayer (ai: tebuconazole, gr 3).
Just after talking about one new rhizoctonia active ingredient, I will touch on another. Prosper EverGol from Bayer will be the new seed treatment on their canola seed for 2013. The new active is group 7 again (lots of new group 7 fungicide products in the pipe) and is known as penflufen. This actives claim to fame is the rhizoctonia control. I haven’t had any experience with this product, but in my research it seems it will be a good option to stay on top of rhizoctonia in your canola. The other actives in Prosper EverGol are Clothianidin (insecticide), trifloxystrobin (gr 3) and metalaxyl (gr. 4) on top of the penflufen. This may be an active that Bayer works into a pulse seed treatment in the future.
Monsanto has went a unique route in their newest seed treatment by adding a biological component. The biological is bacillis subtillis which may be familiar as it is in other companies fungicides or stacked inoculant products. What this means for your crop is enhanced stress tolerance and decreased disease susceptibility through the biologicals ability to stimulate a plants Systemic Acquired Resistance (similar to our immune systems). This response increases specific hormones or phytoalexins (eg: salicylic acid) that help plants overcome these situations.  In my small scale experiences with this product it did seem to enhance early season vigor, but I did not personally see/get any info on a yield bump. Other actives in this product known as Acceleron include difenconazole (gr 3), fludioxinil (gr.12), metalaxyl (gr.4) and thiamethoxam (insecticide).
These are the new products that are currently registered for the 2013 season that offer newly registered or released actives, there will be new generics of other products released as well I am sure. I did touch on a lot of seed treatments this time around and sometimes it is tough to follow exactly what every active is offering you for control, see my seed treatment write up from May to help clear some of this up.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Increased Cereal Seeding Rates

Increasing Seeding Rates in Cereals

When it comes to seeding I often find alot of growers who consistently seed their wheat or durum at 75lbs/ac, or somewhere in that range. This may achieve a decent plant stand, but opens you up to a few factors as I will discuss later. Plant stand density achieved through a seed rate like that is going to depend on several factors such soil temperature, whether the seed is treated, depth etc. What should be happening is growers are sending away their seed for a seed test to get levels of disease as well as their, germ, vigor and thousand kernel weight. What you can do with this information is plug it into this thousand kernel weight formula ((lb/ac) = desired plant population/ft² x 1,000 K wt. (g) ÷ seedling survival rate (in decimal form such as 0.90) ÷ 10.4) and play around with your target plant stand density to get an accurate seeding rate. What I want to talk about today are some of the benefits of targeting an increased plant stand density of something like 28-35plants/ft2 vs targeting 20-24plants/ft2.

The first thing I like about a higher seeding rate is the "insurance" type aspect. With wireworms levels climbing in alot of areas across the prairies and suppression options that need them to feed on 1-2, even 3 seeds before it knocks them out, you can still lose a significant percentage of your stand in some situations. If you target 32 plants per foot square then you can afford to lose a couple plants in a foot squared area, where as if you only have 20 plants to begin with, you are losing yield potential.

The next benefit is increased weed competition. This allows your crop to choke out weeds vs. it being the other way around. A vigorous stand with more plants is going to more efficiently cover that ground and out compete weeds. This is even more helpful if you are held up a few days or more at in crop herbicide timing.
This increased competition is evident within the crop itself as well. More plants forces them to actively scavenge for nutrients and water, and this forces them to grow at a faster rate to capture sunlight. What this means is that you are pushing your crop along at a faster rate, decreasing time to maturity. I had a producer in my area this year do a trial where he seeded at the rate he normally did (85lbs/ac) and then do part where he seeded at about 130lbs/ac. The maturity difference was about 6 days. This could be huge in years with an early frost or years where seeding is pushed back late.

Increased plant stands typically show increased stage uniformity across the field. The reason for this is that when you have a lower stand, you increase tillering. Sometimes tillering is inconsistent and it takes an extra 3 days or so (give or take a day) for extra tillers to develop. If you have areas of the field producing an extra tiller that puts your staging difference at around 3-4 days. Doesnt sound like much, but all of a sudden you are looking at spraying for fusarium head blight and this can significantly affect efficacy because of the off timing in parts of the field.

I just touched on fusarium head blight and another area that increased seeding rates help with quality and length of time susceptible to stresses such as insects or disease. If you have increased tillering (say 1 main stem, 4 tillers) that means you have an increased length of time that your crop is  in anthesis and therefore susceptible to wheat midge, ergot or FHB.  If you only have 2 tillers, then that decreases your length of susceptibility by atleast 5 days or so (compared to 4 tillers).
On top of this you typically get 50% of yield from your main stem, and 25% of yield from each of the next 2 tillers. This adds up to 100% of yield potential. Are you willing to lose quality for zero gain in yield? To put even more emphasis on this, why would you want your crop uptaking more nutrients to put into a 4th tiller when you arent gaining from it? It is a waste of energy for the plant.

There has been wetter years recently and more plants does help in cases of excessive moisture. Under drought conditions is the only time where you may see a negative drawback on higher density levels.

Some may have good luck with low seeding rates (I was in a durum field seeded at 45lbs/ac this year, 6 tillers per plant), but I would highly reccommend giving a high seeding rate a try on atleast one field. I talked about my trial earlier and this grower will be seeding everything heavier in 2013. It is a reletively inexpensive investment per acre and has some real benefits.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Soybean Hype

Soybean Hype

Soybeans have been getting a lot of hype over the past couple months with acres in western Canada estimated to rise significantly for 2013. Soybeans are one of my favorite crops to deal with ever since I worked with some my first couple years of scouting. Soys do have significant upside for return, especially with the prices, but I want to talk about some things that seem to fly by the way side when I hear about soybeans lately.

Heat Units

We all know the benefits of soys in Saskatchewan for example, low disease pressure, lower input costs than canola, Roundup Ready trait, rotational benefits and the list goes on.

But we have to remember that breeding varieties suited to our Saskatchewan and Alberta areas is relatively new, and there still isn’t any really short season varieties. Our shortest varities are sitting in the 2325-2350 Heat Unit (CHU’s)  range. Generally speaking, there are some areas across Saskatchewan and Alberta that receive these sorts of numbers, but remember these aren’t CHU’s from May 1st, they are from May 15-25, once soil temperatures are in that 12-18 degree Celsius range! Now there will be some variation in varieties due to day length and other specialized traits some varieties have, but overall you want to get as close to those CHU’s as possible to achieve maturity with a decent yield. You would still get some yield if you only got 2150CHU’s for example, but the yield would be reduced along with the quality.


Soybeans will use a good amount of water under ideal conditions, and aren’t deep rooters so scavenging for water is limited. The other consideration is that their peak water use occurs at later flower-pod development sort of time frame, for Saskatchewan and Alberta growers this is going to fall in that late July-early August time frame, which happens to be a typical dry time for us. The negative if we do happen to get a rainier than normal July is that could mean cool, damp conditions which aren’t what we want for our soybeans to reach physiological maturity.


Soybean price is influenced in part by the USA, as we all know. Their drought is the main contributor to the large price jump of soybeans that sparked the increased interest in non-typical growing areas such as Saskatchewan and Alberta. We can’t be sure that the prices for soybeans are going to be as strong as they are now. The first reason being the largest ever seeded soybean acerage in South America (Brazil) and the forecast for good growing conditions (it is still early and a couple more months will tell how the weather affects them). This could significantly affect the price and bring it back down well below $15/bu. The other thing often forgot about is that the Americans will still be putting in another soybean crop around the same time as ours will be going in. The size of their acerage as well as conditions are ultimately going to play a role in where the price goes. Not that it’s a surprise to be a slave to the markets, but in talking with guys one thing that sparked interest in soybeans was the price. If large crops come off in S. America and the USA in the next 12 months then soybeans may be closer to $10/bu than 20$bu, and all of a sudden that 25 bushel an acre bean crop (which would be a high end average for a 2100 CHU, average moisture year, growing area) isn’t as profitable as once thought. Plus the risk of that early frost taking out a large chunk of your yield is always there.

I do believe that once the breeding is farther along and we can knock another 100-200CHU’s (or more) off of the shortest season varieties without sacrificing much yield we can grow soybeans with a consistent profit. There are even some areas across Saskatchewan and Alberta that can grow soybeans right now on a consistent basis. I am not trying to scare anyone away from soybeans, just play devils advocate to all the hype. I do hope producers still try some soys, but on a 20, 40, maybe 80 acre basis to start vs. an entire section. Trying small acreage now can get you the experience with them and develop a comfort level with producing them that allows you to be successful soybean grower once some shorter season varieties, more suited to your area are released.