Lessons Learned: Three takes on what worked — and didn’t — in 2015

Seed into the dust, the bins will bust? That one sure didn’t work this year, but there were happy surprises

This growing season was a challenge for many farmers. Alberta Farmer asked some experts about the lessons learned during the 2015 growing season.

Dallas Van Den Driessche

Dallas Van Den Driessche
photo: Supplied

Dallas Van Den Driessche is account manager and precision agronomist with Farmer’s Edge in Vermilion. His territory runs from Bonnyville to Oyen and Lavoy to the Saskatchewan border.

What specialty crops did well this year?

For the first time, I had customers who put in lentils. This is usually a southern crop, but the guys who grew them were happy with them. Because it’s a pulse crop, it reduced their nitrogen inputs. Based on the per-pound prices they were getting this year, some of them were getting in that $20-a-bushel range. A customer who grew them this year for the first time got an average of about 30 bushels an acre. Like anything else, the more times you grow it, the better yield you get.

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What looks promising for 2016?

My feeling is that guys should pick an agronomically sound rotation and make that a priority. But peas, lentils and fababeans look good. Everybody thought the pea crop was going to be a disaster, but I’ve got guys who averaged over 50 bushels an acre. We’re starting to push the limits of peas higher all the time. Peas used to be 20 to 30 bushels on an average and now guys are disappointed if they get less than 40. Varieties and fungicides have improved.

What agronomic practices didn’t work this year?

There’s an old saying that if you seed into the dust, the bins will bust. That backfired this year. We never want to tell people to chase moisture because then they’re putting their seeds in deeper. But guys who seeded deeper into moisture had better germination. Seeds on hillsides and hilltops did not germinate until after we got rain on June 26. Then things started germinating and we got two different stages of crop emergence. Guys who were tilling dried things up a lot worse. Zero till has proven itself as a sound practice, which is why 90 per cent of farmers do it.

Is it time to rethink how much crop to pre-sell before harvest?

I would like to think that guys are not overselling anyway. All you want to pre-sell is a portion of what you anticipate coming. Setting a goal like, “I hope to produce 40 bushels an acre of canola, and I’m going to set a goal that I’m going to have 15 per cent of that sold by Christmas, and another 15 per cent of that sold by a later date.” I believe in staging your selling. I used to be with a marketing firm and the most successful guys were selling a little bit along the way. They never spread themselves too far out.

With tighter margins, is spending a lot of money on land, equipment and storage a wise move? Or do farmers need to be saving their money?

It’s time to watch where you are spending the pennies. Now is the time to look at being more efficient and more profitable on the land you’ve got. If the market stays stagnant, guys need to look at the little things they can do to become more efficient and profitable.

Jeff Ekkel is based near Lacombe, does some consulting with Agri-Trend, but his main business is running a seed potato operation and grain farm with his father, brother, and sister.

What was the best niche crop you had this year?

Peas were our best niche crop. We don’t usually grow them. They did well in a dry year. They stood well and even with a bit of hail, we were pleased with our yields.

Which agronomic practices worked out well this year and which ones didn’t?

Seeding depth was huge for us. Everything that was seeded at a consistent depth into moisture came up nice and even. There were a few fields where we didn’t use an even seeding depth. Crops came up in different stages, and we had to deal with that until harvest.

Is it time to rethink pre-selling before harvest?

In my area, I would say no, because we tend to get pretty good yields. It was supposed to be a poor year, but I’m sitting in the combine right now and the yields are still above expectations. The last time we had no crop was in the drought of 2002. Even when there are a few hail issues, I still think pre-selling some crop when the price is right is good. We’ve already moved a bunch of wheat off the combine, which saves us from storing it. I can move a lot of crop off the combine if I pre-sell it before, for better prices, usually.

With tighter margins, should farmers be more frugal?

You have to be wiser with where you allocate our money. When margins are great, if you spend $10 or $15 an acre on something and it doesn’t give you a return, it doesn’t really affect your bottom line. Now, you need to look at everything. If it gives me a solid return, I’m going to do it. If it doesn’t, I’m going to eliminate that cost or reduce it.

Anderson, Gerald_cmyk.jpgGerald Anderson is an agri-coach with Agri-Trend in Coaldale.

What was the best niche crop to grow this year?

I’m not sure yet because not everything’s in. On dryland, it’s hard to pick the best crop. It still depends on how much rainfall you had. Irrigation crops did quite well. On dry years, irrigation does well because we control the water. This being a dry year, irrigated crops are looking quite good.

What agronomic practices worked best this year?

Liquid fertilizer in a seed row worked well. When you’re using dry fertilizer in a seed row, there’s a fight because a seed has to have moisture. The fertilizer is so hydrophobic that it sucks up all the moisture and the seed has to sit there and wait. We had variable germination for that reason.

Do farmers need to be more frugal?

When commodity prices took a big jump and input prices stayed down, I had several clients who were ready to throw the bank at whatever. They had money coming out their ears and they weren’t focusing on what the costs were. Even in those situations, you should still be careful about how you spend your money. Even when times are really good, I still tell guys to watch their costs all the time. I’d rather those guys hang on to their money than have someone else pick it up.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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