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Ergot In Cereal Crops

Touring through our cereals this time of year, we may run into black growths in place of a kernel. These ugly plumes are ergot bodies, or sclerotia: a plant disease caused by the Claviceps purpurea fungus. With growing years like this one, with a beautiful mixture of heat and moisture, our crops are thriving, but so are our diseases. The moisture promotes plant growth and flowering, as well as the germination of sclerotia. 

Disease Cycle: How does this work?

The first stage is germination of the sclerotia, which requires a cold period followed by wet soils in the spring. The sclerotia produce small, mushroom-like structures called stromata, which produce wind-borne spores. The wind-borne spores, also called ascospores, land on the florets and enter the ovaries of the early flowering plants.

The second stage is the “honeydew stage.” Here, the florets secrete a sticky ooze of spores called conidia, which are spread by rain and insects. They will continue to spread as long as flowering lasts. The honeydew stage ends once the ovary, or kernel, enlarged and is replaced by the ergot body.

What’s So Bad About It?

Although it doesn’t result in a significant yield loss, Ergot can result in economic loss. This is due to it being a major degrading factor in wheat and barley. In wheat and rye, only 0.04% is allowed in Number 1 grade, and even feed wheat has a low allowance of 0.10%. In barley, the tolerance is lower yet, at 0% for malt and 0.05% for feed. 

Ergot thresholds are this low, as the alkaloids in the ergot can cause ergotism when consumed by humans or livestock. In humans, ergotism can result in alternating burning and freezing sensations, death of extremities, and could even lead to death. In livestock, it can cause lameness, loss of body parts, abortions, seizures, and death. Sub-lethal doses will result in lower growth and performance, loss of milk production, and lack of appetite – all of which are recoverable.

How Can It Be Prevented?

Due to the economic losses ergot can cause, we want to do what we can to prevent this fungus. Ergot doesn’t have much for control methods in the field, however, there are management practices that can help. Your first line of defense against ergot is a crop rotation. The ergot only lives in the soil for one year, so a minimum of a two-year rotation is essential. Other things to keep in mind during seeding are avoiding planting a spring cereal next to a winter cereal crop, and ensuring a uniform plant stand by using seed with good germination, seeding at a constant depth, and using a balanced fertilizer program. Finally, use clean seed! Even two-year-old seed clean of ergot is less likely to spread the disease. Beyond seeding time, risk of ergot can be reduced by sanitizing by mowing around headlands and roadways to remove grasses and other possible hosts, and applying herbicide at the correct rate and timing.

If ergot is inevitable, one should harvest heavily infected areas separate from the rest of the field and deliver the infected seed separately to the elevator or destroy it. One can also clean the seed of ergot using a flotation gravity table, or a colour sorter. If you are concerned about ergot in your field, contact your SynergyAG representative to go over your risk levels. We are here to harness the synergy of your crop production and the environment for your agronomic success!

Karly Rumpel AAg

Sources:

Canada Grain Commission. Ergot. 2019. https://www.grainscanada.gc.ca/en/grain-quality/grain-grading/grading-factors/grading-factors-wheat/ergot.html

Government of Saskatchewan. Ergot of Cereals and Grasses.  ND. https://www.saskatchewan.ca/business/agriculture-natural-resources-and-industry/agribusiness-farmers-and-ranchers/crops-and-irrigation/disease/ergot-of-cereals-and-grasses

Making Smart Harvest Marketing Decisions

Swathers, combines and grain carts have been pulled out of their hibernation.  There is a spattering of combines chewing up early crops already.  Harvest is just getting underway in parts of the prairies, and already grain marketing companies and media are estimating the cereal and oilseed harvest will be big.  Having a thought-out marketing plan is one of the first steps in establishing a profitable farm business.  Technology has allowed farmers to make marketing decisions on the go.  You don’t have to call the local elevator as they now post their bids, and there are services that can get a price up to 500 miles away.  Grain can can be sold online, or make hedging moves directly from a phone or tablet.  But what goes into making that “sell” decision?  

Cash Flow

There are several times during the year when farmers need a large influx of cash to cover expenses and debt.  It boils down to knowing what is needed for cash, and when it is needed.  During those parts of the year, managing the grain marketing plan to execute sales and receive cash will keep one alive.  This means setting a goal not only for the price of your grain, but also the point in time when you want to receive that cash from the sale.   Take into account the realities of the industry such as rail movement in the winter, or contracts that drag on.  If you can preplan cash flow needs, you will not be making reactive decisions. You will be making disciplined decisions that bring in revenue.  

Storage

Striking a balance between selling some grain at harvest and storing the rest is highly personalized.  Will you have excess storage or fall short?  Are you wanting to wait for higher prices in the future and using storage as a grain marketing strategy?  What happens if the price does not rally?  Will grain storage increase the speed of harvest by decreasing the time spent hauling and unloading grain?

Have you considered your costs for storing grain?  There are storage facility costs such as depreciation, return on investment, maintenance, and insurance.  Will there be extra drying, or aeration required?  What are your costs associated with moving the grain in and out of storage (labour, equipment, more craks/splits)?  Some hidden costs are the interest cost of having money tied up in stored grain inventory.  For example, you have a loan to pay that is accumulating interest, however, you aren’t satisfied with the grain price or can’t move the grain when you want to.

Margin Objective

Knowing cost of production is a useful base for forming a marketing plan.  Can you turn a profit at current prices?  What is the lowest price you can sell at and maintain profitability?  

Cost of production is taking into account your entire crop inputs as well as all other farm costs that go into the business of farming (fuel, depreciation, wages, land rent, power, administration, etc.).   Outlining the cost of production in the spring and then updating at harvest, when realistic yield estimates and inputs are understood, is important. Calculating and understanding your full cost of production helps take the emotion out of making the difficult “sell” decision.  

Incremental Sales

Hindsight is 20/20, and there will always be the fluctuation in grain markets throughout the growing season.  You may not always sell all of your grain at the market high, but realize that making incremental sales and building the best average price for your production over time equates to money in the bank.

Seasonality of Grain Marketing

This is associated to the growing season and is usually based on supply and demand.  During old crop months, when supply is typically lower, grain has a tendency to be priced higher than the farther out new-crop trading months.  When new crop is harvested, there is once again a higher level of supply.  This is why many of the grain markets tend to reflect their lowest seasonal prices during the new crop trading month. 

Know your marketing tools that are available to you, and what tools you should be using. This will help you achieve your price targets and sales deadlines. 

Considerations For Straight Cutting Canola

As we are coming into the harvest season here on the Western Canadian prairies, one of the questions that comes up frequently is whether or not to straight cut canola. Before we send our swathers to the auction block, there are a few things to take into consideration when it comes to straight cutting, and some of these decisions need to be made before pulling any harvest equipment into the field.

Variety

This decision is the first and probably the most important decision when it comes to straight cutting canola. Varieties that have Pod Shatter Reduction technology will hold up the best when straight cutting canola. This is the biggest factor when it comes to seed loss. The stand-ability of these varieties are usually much better. 

Disease Management

Once a straight cut variety is seeded, managing disease becomes the next most important detail. Diseases such as sclerotinia, blackleg, and clubroot can cause uneven maturity across the field, increase the potential for high amounts of pod drop, and shattering of pods. Management of these diseases can be controlled through crop rotation, variety selection, and fungicides.

Accessing Your Field

An ideal field for straight cutting is one that has a uniform canopy and that is well knit together. Fields that are not tend to have a higher risk of shattering loss. Ideal fields will have an even topography with minimal low spots. This will give the crop the most even maturity across the field.

When looking at the field, it’s important for a field to have a low population of weeds. The green matter from late emerging weeds can cause poor harvestability and can cause some dockage. Using a dry down product or a systemic herbicide is a great way to manage this.

Timing Your Crop 

When the pods are dry, and the seeds rattle in the pod when shaken, this is the ideal time to straight cut the canola.  Seed colour is ideally black to a dark brown, with less than 2% green count. Overall, moisture should be in the 10% or less range to prevent issues in the bin.

When it comes to straight cutting or swathing canola, there are many different factors that should be taken into consideration. The seed variety, managing disease, the topography of the field, and the timing of the crop are all important details to consider. Both methods are great options when it comes time to take the crop off the field.

Getting The Crop In The Bin

With harvest just around the corner, it is time to talk about the final steps and decisions that you are going to take to get the crop in the bin. You want to make sure you choose the option that will be the most efficient and practical for your operation. When it comes to pre-harvest, there are several options available. These include swathing, contact herbicides, and systemic herbicides. The use of a pre-harvest desiccant can be a great harvest management tool to speed up harvest and help you make better use of your time. 

Contact Herbicides

The use of Reglone allows for a quicker dry down of your crop which helps get the crop in the bin faster. The quicker dry down will also help you to be more efficient by allowing you to combine faster, spread straw better, combine later into the night, and start earlier in the morning. Quicker dry down also helps you protect the grade of the crop and avoid any environmental factors that could delay harvest. Contact herbicides are best suited for desiccation of pulse crops. This option is also available for canola, but the dense canopy makes the dry down process a little more challenging for a contact herbicide. 

Heat LQ, Reglone Ion, Desica or other Diquat products are some examples of contact herbicides. 

Systemic Herbicides

Systemic herbicides such as glyphosate can be used alone or in conjunction with a contact, such as heat to desiccate a crop. This mode of action offers enhanced control for those trouble fields that have high weed pressure late in the season. It can take 10-14 days for Glyphosate to show activity on the crop, so the addition of Heat LQ can speed up the rate of dry down. The downside is, these products do not help the crop mature, which is why a timely application is so critical. Early applications can have detrimental affects on yield and quality. Systemic herbicides are most commonly used for desiccating canola acres. Depending on the marketability, these products may also be used on some pulse and cereal crops.

Desiccation Timing 

Lentils

First off you will want to look at the field as a whole and see if there is a general colour change from green to yellow amongst the entire field. This colour change is indicating that the crop is reaching its natural maturity. Next, you will want to go into the field and make sure that the bottom pods are dry. This means that the seeds rattle in the pods when they are shook. The middle seeds should be starting to turn a lime green colour and can easily be split in half. The top seeds should be a brighter green colour and will still be a bit juicy. 

Green Peas

Before applying a desiccant to peas you will want the field to have an overall yellow colour. The moisture content also needs to be less than 45%. This is measured when the seeds in the bottom pods are dry and translucent in colour. The middle pods should be green/yellow, full sized and split when squeezed. At the top, the pods will still be a green colour but beginning to turn yellow. 

Yellow Peas 

When spraying yellow peas, you will want to see an overall colour change from green to yellow throughout the field. The bottom pods should be dry with detached seeds in the pods that are translucent in colour. The upper pods should be starting to shrink and the seeds should split when they are squeezed. 

Chickpeas

Desi: You will want the majority of the plants to be yellow (the tops of the plants may still be green) and the seeds should be a yellow/brown colour. 

Kabuli: The majority of the plants and pods should be ripe and dried down. You will want the seeds to be white/tan and detached from the pod. 

Wheat

You will want to apply the desiccant when the field is at the hard dough stage (less than 30% seed moisture). The easiest way to establish this timing is when you can leave a nail print in the kernel. It is best to scout in many different areas of the field to get an accurate assessment. 

Canola

Heat LQ should be applied to when there is 80% seed colour change. In order to determine the maturity, you will need to open up the pods and asses the seed colour since the ripeness of the overall field may be deceiving. The seeds on the bottom ¾ of the main stem should be changed to a dark brown/black colour. Seed colour change can be a very challenging thing to assess, especially in years where the crop is in two different stages.  It is important to scout many different areas of the field to get an accurate assessment. 

Marketability

Always be sure to check with your grain buyer to see what desiccated seed will be accepted before you spray!

 

For any more guidance on pre-harvest desiccation, reach out to your local SynergyAG retail!

 

Diamonds Are Not a Farmer’s Best Friend

The southern winds blew all spring and have left us wondering, “Did they bring the diamondback moths with them?”

What Are Diamondback Moths?

Diamondback moths are a pest on the Canadian Prairies, which migrate from the south to the north on the wind currents in the spring. They prefer brassica crops, which means on the prairies they feed mainly on canola. Diamondbacks can have up to 4 generations per year, so the damage period can depend on when they arrive, and how many generations there are.

The moths are 8-9 mm in length when resting, and they have 3 diamond-like markings on their back. The adult moths lay eggs on the leaf surfaces which can hatch to larvae in 4-8 days. Since the diamondback can have up to 4 generations per year, there can be all life stages in one field at the same time. 

Once the larvae hatch, they can feed up to 21 days. First on internal leaf tissue, then outer leaf tissue, flowers and buds. When the larvae reach maturity, they are a bright green worm around 12 mm (½”) long with a slight taper at each end. When the larval stage is complete, they pupate. This can last anywhere from 5 to 15 days. They then emerge as an adult moth, and start the whole process over again. The whole diamondback life cycle can vary from 21-51 days, depending on the environment and food conditions. 

What To Watch For

There are a few different monitoring techniques that can be used. The first would be pheromone traps, which are set out to predict early warnings of infestations. Unfortunately though, these traps are only an estimate or a predicting tool and regular monitoring in July and August is necessary. 

When it comes to scouting for these pests, you will be looking for the diamondbacks in the larval stage. It is important to identify them at this point in the life cycle as this is when they feed on the plant. Sweep nets can be utilized, but keep in mind there are no threshold numbers set for this method. Since diamondbacks can feed on all parts of the plant, the sweep net will not accurately collect the larvae in that testing area. If diamond back larvae are found in the sweep net, closer inspection is required of the crop. 

The best method of scouting is to visit 5-10 different areas in the field and remove plants in an area the size of a square foot. You will then lightly beat the plants on a clean surface, such as the hood of your truck or the tailgate. The larvae will fall off the plant, and you will be able to assess the populations. The action threshold is 20-30 larvae/ft2 or 2-3 larvae/plant. 

When you are assessing damage it is important to take into account the stage(s) of the larvae and the crop. Once leaf tissue begins to die off as the plant matures, the larvae will move up the plant and feed on pod and stem tissue.  This can quickly lower the yield potential of the crop.

How To Control Them

As with most pests, there are beneficial insects that can help naturally control populations. This can range from insects, to parasitoids, or fungi. The presence of these factors are important to take into account when deciding if you have reached the action threshold or not.

If the application of an insecticide is warranted, there are many options on the market. Insecticide would be applied if you have determined that your crop has reached the action threshold and needs another form of control to prevent further damage. There are different products available but it is important to be cautious of the preharvest interval and the impact on beneficial insects found in the field. 

 

If you need help monitoring for diamondbacks, or help deciding which control option would be the best fit for your operation, reach out to your SynergyAG agronomist or sales representative.

Niki Beingessner CCA, PAg

Sales Agronomist – Yorkton, SK

 

Sources:

Canola Council

Government of Saskatchewan

 

Flea Beetles – Chewing Their Way Into June

As many people find themselves finishing up the seeding season, we also find ourselves at the beginning stages of the bug season. If you have been out and about in your fields you have probably noticed small black bugs that are the size of a pin head bouncing around. 

The striped and crucifer flea beetles are the two common species that feed on canola in the Canadian prairies. Hop flea beetles can also be found, but occur in low numbers throughout the prairies. All three species can vary in the way they look, how they feed, and when they emerge. 

When To Look For Them

Flea beetles emerge in early Spring, and can cause damage to your canola crop from emergence, up until the 3-4 leaf stage. They aren’t picky eaters, and are known to feed on the cotyledons, leaves, stems, roots or any fleshy tissue on the plant. Sunny, warm and dry weather is preferred by the beetles, but less ideal conditions don’t seem to slow them down either. They are known to increase below ground and underside of leaf feeding during the less than ideal conditions.

How To Manage Them

It is important to assess where the bugs are feeding and how much of it there is. Action threshold levels are when average leaf area loss is more than 25%, and it is considered economically beneficial to spray insecticide when the leaf area loss is above 50%. There are no established threshold levels for stem feeding, which is why it is so important to assess where the feeding is taking place. If the flea beetles are actively feeding on leaf tissue, stem tissue and/or the growing point, the action level might be lower. 

There are different control options and management practices to help mitigate the damage these guys can have on your canola crop. Seed treatment options like Prosper Evergol and Helix Vibrance are standard on your canola seed to protect against flea beetles, but you can enhance your protection by adding Lumiderm on your seed when you order it. There are also in-crop insecticide control options to cover you off if populations rise and leaf damage is above threshold levels. Lastly, there are cultural control methods such as seeding early to get crop establishment before the emergence of the flea beetles, allowing a higher tolerance to injury. The second practice is increasing your seeding rate, this can help you reduce the impact of the flea beetle damage by spreading it out over more plants allowing for easier recovery from the stress event. 

Don’t Fear Though

The sight of these pesky little bugs probably have you wondering a few different things. Such as, why your seed treatment isn’t working. The truth is, it is working. But, with the newer chemistries, the flea beetles have to feed on the plant to ingest the insecticide for it to work. Whereas older seed treatments were used as more of a deterrent or repellent. Also, seed treatments only give a 28-35 day protection window after the crop is seeded, in cooler, dry weather the crop could be slower growing and not past the 3-4 leaf stage so it is at risk for flea beetle damage. 

Contact our SynergyAG Agronomists and they can help you determine which is the right course of action against your flea beetles! 

 

Niki Beingessner CCA, PAg

Sales Agronomist – Yorkton

 

Weeding Out The Weeds

Whether you are watching from the cab of a drill, floater, combine, or sprayer, this Spring you can see specks of green littering your fields that were unbelievably clean last year. This previous year was an anomaly on the Canadian prairies – A dry, cold Spring, where we had uneven germination, and weed-less fields for miles. Cue a timely rain in June, and that changed. Flushes of kochia, cleavers, and narrow-leaved hawksbeard took over our once clean crops. Fast forward to this year, we are seeing the repercussions of these flushes. Spring is a busy time, and a pre-burn is not always feasible, especially with the possibility of snow storms in April. Coming into post-emergence, we have to be prepared. 

Weeds such as kochia, volunteer canola, and wild buckwheat, although they look innocent, can prove to be detrimental to crop yields. High weed populations in the early part of the growing season create competition for water, nutrients, and sunlight, which are all essential for the developing crop. This is why it is important to have early control. A post-harvest application if possible, will reduce instances of winter annuals. A pre-emergence application will allow for a wide spectrum of herbicides to be used; in turn this doesn’t limit the weeds you can control. This will reduce stress on the plants and your sprayer operator, once the crop is emerged. 

Post-emergence, your options are limited a considerable amount. When this is the case, the best option is typically to wait until your crop reaches the appropriate staging for given herbicide options, and then spray. Given the way the growing season has started, our crops are going to have some early season vigour that we did not see in 2019. This means that it should have some competitive edge against weed pressure.

Another area we have advanced on in agriculture is herbicide rotation and herbicide layering. It is important to keep these in mind when spraying the crops, and when planning out your crop rotation. Herbicide rotation refers to using a different active on the same field with each pass. This is to ensure that weeds do not become herbicide resistant. An even more effective way to reduce herbicide resistance is to layer your active ingredients. This way, if one active only hurts the weed and doesn’t kill it, the next one will. This will limit the ability of the resistant plant to reproduce and make for a herbicide resistant mess in the following years. 

At the end of the day, your best option when it comes to weed control is to be proactive and to talk to your Agronomist. With them, you will want to discuss your options and the best way to control the spectrum of weeds in your field. Visit your local SynergyAG retail location and connect with their Agronomist.

 

Happy spraying!  

Karly Rumpel A.Ag., BSc.(Agr.)

Sales Agronomist

Synergy AG Govan