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Special Crops Take The Brunt Of Frost

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“It’s strange to talk of plants being acclimatized to cold in June, but that’s what we had”

It would be had to call this year’s cool spring a blessing, but if there had to be a frost on June 7, it probably was.

Alberta Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) has had more than 500 reseeding claims this year, mostly for canola, from the Peace country to Lethbridge area. Cool, dry weather limited crop development and hardened them off and probably limited the damage from late frosts. “It’s strange to talk of plants being acclimatized to cold in June, but that’s what we had,” says Gilbert Goudreau, Manager of Adjusting Services for AFSC. “Right after the frost, lots of canola had blackened cotyledons, but most came back after a few days.”

Some bean growers haven’t been as fortunate. Beans are one of the most frost-susceptible crops and after the frosts over the weekend of June 5th, growers and fieldmen were busy checking for damage.

“We dodged the bullet,” says Owen Cleland, Manager of Operations for Viterra Bean Division. “Without the fog, or with slightly lower temperatures, we’d be seeing a lot more damage. Half a degree more frost and in some areas, we’d have lost the crop.

“We had a little rain before the frost and that helped. Some people fired up their pivots as soon as they heard the frost warning and most places had rain.”

Some fields may have a few bare spots or thin patches, but most are above the critical 60 per cent of target populations. For the growers who have to reseed, it will be costly. Seed prices this year are almost a record, $70 to $75 an acre.

Potatoes, like every other crop, are late this year. “The frost blackened some leaves, but the crop should recover quickly with a few warm days,” says Jeff Bronsch, Technical Director for the Potato Growers of Alberta. “Potatoes can withstand quite a frost but crops have been set back by the cool weather, even the irrigation water is colder than usual.”

LESS SUSCEPTIBLE TO INSECTS?

When interviewed earlier this month, Bronsch was hoping for warm weather, ideally 25 to 27 C in the day and 12 C at night, so the crops can recover. Ever the optimist, he’s hoping the cold winter has cut into disease and insect populations.

Corn seems to have been blackened but not seriously damaged by frost. Corn needs temperatures above 10 C to grow, so crops weren’t far along when the frosts hit and growing points were safe.

“The damage varies a lot from field to field and in different areas,” says Bruce McKinnon, of Monsanto, which markets corn under its DeKalb brand. “Now, we just have to keep crops moist

and try and give them the best-possible growing conditions.”

Sugar beets are now advanced enough that the frost didn’t hurt them, but some crops had to be reseeded due to frost damage in early May. “We had an advantage with this late frost that even though we had temperatures as low as -5 C, nights are short in June, so the low temperatures didn’t last long,” says Alberta Agriculture Research Scientist, Ross McKenzie. “We often see more damage from frost these days because of direct seeding. Bare ground soaks up heat from the sun during the day and radiates it back during the night, protecting seedlings from frost.”

McKenzie has also seen a slow start to the season. In his seeding date trials, crops seeded May 4 took 20 days to emerge, while those seeded two weeks later were up in seven days. Now, he says, the challenge is that crops aren’t able to take advantage of the best time for photosynthesis and insect pests will be attacking smaller plants. With the risk of a late harvest leading to lower grades, getting returns above input costs could be a challenge.

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