Things not going as hoped? That’s normal, says crop specialist

Whether it’s production conditions or markets, producers need to have a Plan B

tractors seeding a field
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Preparation is key when dealing with the unexpected, says provincial crop specialist Harry Brook.

Harry Brook
Harry Brook photo: Supplied

“There’s always a lot of talk about ‘normal’ when talking about cropping and agriculture,” said Brook. “Advanced planning and adjustments are needed to avoid possible devastating results when ‘normal’ doesn’t occur. Whether it applies to spring weather conditions or markets or even germinating crops, there is always need for a Plan B.”

The last four or five springs have been cool and moist, yet this spring has been earlier than the last few and seeding started early. Parts of the province are dealing with dry conditions and pastures declining from a lack of moisture. Other parts have ideal moisture conditions for seeding and germination.

“It all boils down to identifying risk and how it can be managed,” said Brook. “Crop insurance is a useful tool, giving partial protection from weather-related threats. They even have a price endorsement for protection against crop price loss. To replace possible pasture failure due to dryness, some producers are looking at growing annual forages. They are using greenfeed or annual cereal crops for grazing in case of drought. If it rains, then those crops have the flexibility to be harvested for forage or seed.”

Seed treatments can be seen as insurance as well.

“Under ideal conditions of warm soils and plentiful moisture, it’s doubtful that a seed treatment would provide sufficient benefit to be worthwhile. However, spring seeding conditions are rarely ideal. Where the seed is sitting in cold, damp soils for extended times prior to emergence, seed treatments can make a significant difference to yield.”

The same reasoning applies to weeds, insects and diseases and pesticides, said Brook.

“You need knowledge to accurately choose the right product or decision when the issue comes up. This means being informed about economic thresholds, the pest’s life cycle, potential crop losses, and when the crop is most susceptible to the particular pest. That means regular crop scouting with feet in the fields.”

With price risk, there are many tools for reducing the price risk.

“This includes things like delivery contracts, futures contracts, options, and margin contracts,” said Brook. “Some of them support a price while shifting the risk to other areas like a margin or production risk. There is no way to reduce risk to zero but there are many ways to ameliorate the risk.”

Don’t count on ‘normal,’ he added.

“Normal doesn’t really exist,” said Brook. “You have to use all the tools in your tool box to identify possible threats and challenges to your farming operation and then take the necessary steps to minimize their potential damage to your operation.”

Normal “usually means there are barriers to overcome on the road to profitability,” he said.

“Don’t get bushwhacked by the abnormal. Use the tools available to protect your investment in this year’s crop. Forearmed is forewarned.”

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