Special crops off to good start in south

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In southern Alberta, seeding of major crops was almost done by early May. And by mid-month, crops were emerging and even potatoes were at “ground-crack,” almost emerging. “It’s a month early, compared to a year ago,” says Hal Reed, production support specialist with Sunrise AG in Taber, who works mostly with potato growers.

“There’s a lot more optimism this year. Guys can seed whole fields (instead of losing about 30 per cent of their land to flooding) and they’re 90 per cent done, just a few days to go. The moisture’s good, now we could use a little heat.”

Sugar beets are doing well, with many crops emerged and the last few fields will be seeded by mid-May. “Most stands are looking very good,” says Andrew Llewelyn-Jones, agricultural supervisor with Rogers Sugar. “I’ve seen some problems with soil crusting, but we had irrigation water available a couple of weeks earlier than usual, so people could water crops up.” Rogers has over 30,000 acres of beets contracted and optimism is high among growers and the company, thanks to a new contract and Roundup Ready beets.

The new beets have been a “game-saver” for the industry, says Llewelyn-Jones.

Flexible

Glyphosate gives growers flexible weed control that’s more effective than the old tank mixes that had a very narrow application window. Glyphosate also has very low toxicity in the environment, he notes. Growers have another new tool to help them control sugar beet cyst nematode — satellite mapping of canola fields. Canola is a host for the yield-robbing beet pest, so beets must be in a strict one in four-year rotation without canola. But, growers don’t always have a complete cropping history on rented land. Rogers is collecting satellite images to identify land where canola is being grown, so growers can avoid costly rotation errors.

Bean growers, who often delay seeding to be sure the ground is warm enough for beans to germinate and emerge quickly, are planning to start seeding May 14 or before.

Bean prices have come off some exceptional prices recently but Owen Clelland, manager at Viterra’s bean plant in Taber, expects prices for most types to stay up in the 35 to low 40s cents per pound this year.

“We’ve got all the acreage we want under contract,” he says. “Some people grow some beans on spec, but we’re limited by our storage capacity and the amounts we can ship within a season. A lot of beans, especially pintos and pinks, lose their bright colour after harvest and many of our buyers want new-crop beans. They say they cook better and taste better, so we’re developing slow-darkening pinto beans that store better.”

Bean scene

Pintos account for most of Alberta’s bean area at 23,500 acres, followed by Great Northerns at 13,000 acres, and 4,000 acres of reds. Black and yellow varieties make up the rest with just a few hundred acres of pinks.

Viterra has a new yellow bean variety close to registration and expects it will help increase production of this type. Upright varieties of pinto or Great Northern beans are increasing steadily and now make up about 10 per cent of bean acres.

“New growers almost always solid seed, rather than buy the specialized equipment for traditional 22-inch rows, but it’s not easy,” says Clelland. “The upright varieties hold the pods off the ground well, but you need a newer swather header with adjustable pitch so you can cut the plants off just an inch above the ground. Then, if the weather co-operates and you can hit that swathing window it’s doable.”

White mould is a challenging disease for bean growers. They aim to put on as much water as they can in the fewest possible passes and often either inter-row rip or use a dammer-dike to scoop depressions in the soil to prevent run-off of irrigation water on the field. That’s not an option with solid-seeded crops.

Irrigation and the southern Alberta heat make it possible to grow a wide range of special crops, but each of the special crops has special needs.

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