Increased disease pressure, weed competition a possibility for crops this summer

The cool, wet spring could mean increased disease pressure and weed competition later in the growing season

The cool, damp weather of early spring delayed seeding across Alberta, but “it’s still early,” says a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development.

“Last year, more than half the (canola) acres were seeded after May 20,” said Neil Whatley.

“We’ve got lots of time until freeze-up in the fall. There’s no use panicking or even thinking about that right now.”

The cool spring helped prevent evaporation from the soil, so most of the province went into the spring with above-average soil moisture levels, he said.

“Soil moisture conditions are good,” said Whatley, adding that he’s not aware of any flooded areas yet.

But the cool weather also kept soil temperatures down, and “a person doesn’t want to seed into too cold soil.”

Southern Alberta producers have experienced the greatest delay “simply because they usually get going earlier,” he said. “They’re about five to seven days behind average.”

Central Alberta was “a little behind, only maybe five per cent or so,” while areas in the north were right on track.

But if some crops are still behind schedule, producers may need to start making some tough decisions about their cropping options, said Colin Bergstrom, president of Point Forward Solutions.

“(When) seeding dates start getting late, you might see a switch out from wheat to canola or to barley — something a little shorter season.”

Some acres that were slated for faba beans — a long-season crop — were cropped to something else, but most of the producers he works with were half-finished seeding as of May 20.

“I wouldn’t say anyone is anywhere close to hitting the panic button yet.”

Weeds and diseases

But with seeding nearly done, producers will need to start thinking about the growing problems they’re likely to face because of the cool, damp spring, which also delayed pre-seed burn-off.

“If pre-seed burn-off of weeds did not happen, then you have to try to get them after seeding but before emergence,” said Whatley. “If that doesn’t happen, there will be a problem with too many weeds in the crop.

“You’d have to get in there pretty quick with post-emergent, and with all the other work that has to be done, that’s a little difficult to do sometimes. There could be a little bit of extra weed competition this spring if the burn-offs didn’t work out right.”

Disease pressure could also hit harder in a year like this one.

“In many parts of the province, we’ve had three to four years of cool, damp springs and higher-than-average disease,” said Whatley. “There’s a fair bit of disease out there waiting to germinate.

“This cool, damp spring, especially for a fungal disease like ergot, will leave the cereal crops at risk again, if preventive measures aren’t taken.”

Scouting for disease will be critical as the crops start to establish, said Bergstrom.

“If your crops are having to emerge with those kinds of conditions, scouting them for any potential problems obviously takes on greater importance,” he said.

“You want to make sure you’re vigilant in doing what you can to protect the crop as it tries to establish.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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