Ag Canada is forecasting a jump in canola, barley and wheat acres this year — but rotations and sticking with the tried and true seem to be top of mind for many Alberta producers.
But specialty crops are getting a look as grain and oilseed producers look for options that could beef up the bottom line.
Alberta Farmer asked four producers about their seeding plans, and while not a statistically meaningful survey, their comments show that more cereals isn’t necessarily the route favoured in this province.
Rotation a priority
Lee Markert said he’s been seeding more and more pulses over the past five years.
“We’re going to continue on that trend and we’ll have more pulses in this year than we ever have before,” said Markert, who operates Markert Seeds, north of Vulcan, with his parents.
The family, which crops about 4,700 acres, decided to go with more pulses for both marketing and agronomic reasons. They’ve moved into yellow peas and faba, and are also producing peas for certified seed because of increasing demand.
“It’s kind of a ripple effect because the commodity market is demanding more yellow peas and as a result there’s a higher demand for more certified seed,” he said. “With the value you can extract from yellow peas right now on the commercial grain side of things, I think a lot of producers are more inclined to purchase certified seed on a more regular basis and maintain their quality more consistently year after year.”
Agriculture Canada is forecasting nearly four million acres of peas — a four per cent increase over last year — because of high returns, but Markert is keeping an eye on the rise of root rot, both in southern Alberta and across the Prairies.
Ag Canada is also predicting more canola acreage. But that won’t be the case at the Markert farm, where the plan is to maintain or even reduce canola acres despite Markert becoming chair of the Alberta Canola Producers Commission.
Nor will there be a lot of barley — a decision also driven by rotation.
“I think there’s a lot of malt barley being seeded this year, based on what you could get for malt barley last year after harvest, and some of the early numbers that you hear for new crop,” he said.
“Malt barley is probably an attractive option for a lot of people, in this area anyways.”
He said he’s also expecting wheat acreage in his area to be flat, but durum acres to be up.
Tried and true
It’s steady as she goes for John Guelly, who crops about 900 acres near Westlock.
The third-generation farmer has stuck to a wheat-canola rotation for a decade and this year will again seed about 450 acres of each.
“We’re looking at trying to find another crop that we can use to lengthen our rotation out,” said Guelly. “Years ago, we were big into malt barley, but we started having problems with markets and pricing, so we went away from it. But it’s something that I’m considering getting back into — if something better doesn’t come along.”
Guelly has typically grown Canadian Western Red Spring wheat — Roblin for many years and more recently Stettler. He has tried Canadian Prairie Spring wheat several times, but isn’t sold on it yet.
“It looks like the markets for CPS may be increasing,” he said. “I think we may put a little more CPS in, in future years. Not this year though.”
But he will be growing AC Muchmore, a semi-dwarf variety, to see if it reduces lodging issues.
Graeme Rice farms with his father, uncle and cousin near Lacombe, where they raise cattle as well as cropping 1,500 acres divided between canola, wheat, and barley. Wheat and canola acreages alternate as the main crop — this year it will be 700 acres of wheat (mostly CPS but they’re also trying some hard red spring), 200 for canola, and 400 for barley.
They will also be transitioning some of their acres on poorly producing fields to pasture this year.
The family has been looking at additional options but haven’t found the right one yet. They looked at growing malt (soil tests weren’t favourable) and are currently investigating the possibility of growing quinoa. Some of their neighbours have tried faba beans, but Rice is waiting to see what happens to faba bean markets.
“I’m concerned that the production of them is going up so fast that there won’t be a market for them,” he said. “We considered this, and decided we’re not ready to give this a shot yet.”
Peas are another option, but they’ve never grown them before.
But there’s a spot open for the right crop.
“The lower prices are making us look around, but we haven’t leaped into anything,” said Rice.
Warren Sekulic and his father operate an 800-acre grain farm east of Rycroft, growing canola, peas, and wheat, as well as pedigreed seed farm.
This year will see some new pea varieties, including commercial peas, but rotation generally dictates their cropping decisions because something that pencils out better in winter won’t necessarily be the best option come harvest, said Sekulic.
“Some is based on spring pricing, but that can change throughout the year, so we tend to stick to our rotation,” he said.
The pea acres do change based on market signals, but won’t change that much because not all of the ground is suited for peas. The Sekulics have also looked at a few scenarios involving alsike clover or creeping red fescue. About 15 to 20 per cent of their total acres are fluid, based on market signals, the drive to experiment, and lengthening out the rotation due to their pedigreed seed business.