Spring seeding is rolling along about as well as anyone could wish with enough soil moisture to get crops a good start.
According to Alberta Agriculture, surface soil moisture conditions are rated good or excellent in over 75 per cent of the farming area. The excess moisture conditions of the last two years are confined to the western edge of the province and the Peace country where 60 per cent of the area is too wet. The North Peace and east-central Alberta are dry.
For most of the province, seeding started the first week of May. “This year, seeding seems late because the little snow and ice we had has been gone so long, but May is not late. And, we know from the last few years, we can get crops in pretty quickly these days, ” says Harry Brook, of Alberta Agriculture’s Farm Info Centre in Stettler.
Hay and pasture in most areas seems to be off to a really good start. And, fall-seeded crops came through the winter really well, despite the lack of snow cover, probably because there were no long cold spells.
Some longtime winter wheat growers didn’t seed the crop last fall because it was so dry. It may have been a wise move – some crops had poor germination due to lack of moisture or late seeding. But, most of the winter wheat looks really good.
“Even with the lack of snow cover we saw last winter, I have seen very little winter damage,” says Autumn Holmes-Saltzman, winter wheat agrologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada. She advises applying nitrogen fertilizer and taking care of winter annual weeds as early as possible and delaying any decisions on terminating a poor crop till you’re 60 to 75 per cent done seeding your spring crops. “I’ve seen some crops that were slower to start this spring, but only one I advised terminating. And, you need to fertilize and control annual weeds for any crop.”
Troy Prosofsky, agronomist with the canola council, has seen some good stands of canola this spring, with higher-than-usual seedling survival, 80 per cent rather than the 60 per cent usually considered good.
“With warm conditions and good moisture, many growers have very good stands that make all decisions for the crop easier,” he says. “Seven plants per square foot is a really nice number, you get fewer side branches, bloom is a week shorter and hot winds in July have less impact on yield. And, decisions like when to spray for any problem, or when to swath is easier with a more uniform crop.”
Prosofsky has some cautions. He realizes economics drive many people to alternate canola and wheat, but sees it as agronomically unsustainable. “Breeders just can’t keep up with the disease pressure that builds up,” he says. He also has advice for crops in the fields. “Frost is always a worry in early spring,” he says. “The colder it gets, the longer it stays cold, and hotter it gets in the hours after frost, the higher the risk to the crop. Check seedling growing points three days after frost. If the growing points are green, those vital growing points haven’t been injured by cells bursting due to freezing and rapid thawing. Use plant counts to make reseeding decisions.”
Prosofsky advises checking field edges, volunteer canola and related weeds for flea beetles. Most parts of Alberta have two species: the crucifer flea beetle is controlled by insecticide seed treatments, the striped flea beetle survives those neonicotinoid insecticides better, starts feeding earlier in spring and does more damage to the crop. The striped flea beetle dominates north of Edmonton and is spreading across the province.
“Flea beetles overwinter in ditches and around trees,” says Prosofsky. “Watch for them and be aware that your first line of defence, seed treatment, won’t be effective against striped flea beetles. They start at the field margins, so if you need to use an insecticide, you can spray just the outside rounds.” Adding a reduced rate of insecticide to a herbicide treatment to lower insect populations is not wise, says Prosofsky. “You’re selecting for resistance,” he says.