Planning Farming Practices Ahead of Dry Conditions
For farmers, the start to a new crop year begins much before all the equipment hits the fields in the spring. To start off the new crop year, you must review the past years operations, and make a crop plan based on your past success and the commodity market. Planning consists of choosing which practices to utilize, what crops to grow, what inputs to use and many more. These decisions are usually made based on a prediction of what the growing conditions are going to be like for the upcoming year. Across the Canadian Prairies, specifically Saskatchewan, large areas have seen below average precipitation in the past four years. Some years receiving less than half the average rainfall, results in extremely dry conditions. Fortunately, there are many ways to adapt and change farming practices to ensure you will remain productive during dry conditions. Tools such as fertilizing, choosing crops to grow, and in-crop control can all be altered based on the condition’s farmers are faced with.
When creating a fertilizer plan, you need to keep in mind that there are potential losses that can take place throughout the season. There is risk of fertilizer loss from a seedbed that’s lacking moisture, as well as increased risk if you get a precipitation event soon after seeding. Losses of nitrogen (N) can be minimized by adding stabilizers on either their dry or liquid fertilizers. For nitrogen, stabilizers prevent the enzyme urease from converting urea into ammonia gas. If there is not adequate available soil moisture at seeding, you may want to back off the nitrogen you put down. Should environmental conditions favor an increased yield goal, you can top up your nitrogen in season. If you get adequate moisture shortly after seeding, early applications such as broadcasting, dribble banding, and foliar nutrition (such as melted urea) would be an option to add to your herbicides. There are also fertilizers that are more plant available, such as orthophosphates and zinc sulphates. Incorporating these forms of fertilizers have shown very effective results in prairie soils under dry conditions.
Choosing which crops to grow
When growing a crop in dry conditions, it is very beneficial to get your soil tested to determine exactly what type of soil your fields have. Heavier soils with more clay particles have higher water and nutrient holding capacity then lighter soils with a silty/sandy texture. A representative soil test would help you analyze the makeup of your soil and determine the level of available nutrients your soil has. The next key factor is finding out how deep down the moisture is, and try to figure out the ideal depth to place the seed. During dry conditions, there will be an advantage to seeding cereals and pulses a bit deeper than normal to find moisture. Cereals are ideally seeded 1-2 inches deep and pulses 1-3 inches deep. Crops seeded closer to the surface will have more trouble germinating in dry conditions due to lack of moisture. Canola and other oilseeds are optimally seeded at 0.5-1 inches deep.
Another way to manage dry conditions will be to choose crops that are more drought tolerant. Try to choose crops that have lower daily moisture requirements as a way of coping with periods of inadequate moisture. These crops would be mostly cereals and pulses in our area. Cereals like barley have drought-tolerant traits in them and have lower daily water use than most other crops. Pulses, especially lentils, are very drought tolerant. They thrive in dryer conditions, as their daily water use is very low. The moisture requirements of common crops are as follows: cereals (380-430mm), peas (300-370mm), wheat (420-480mm), canola (400-480mm), and corn (580-650mm). Since pulses are an early maturing crop, they have the best chance at early germination, increasing the chance of having pollination completed before the driest part of the season.
Dry conditions, as have been seen in the last few years, bring different challenges to overcome when it comes time for in-crop control. Certain strains of insects are starting to become an increasing problem again as drier conditions persist. These pests can greatly impact yield. Insects such as grasshoppers, flea beetles, and cutworms can create detrimental losses to crops when it is dry. When plants are not able to grow fast enough, they struggle to compete with the economic threshold of the insect in the field. Dry conditions also present new or challenging weeds that may require different sources of control efforts. Kochia, thistle, and dandelions all seem to show up when conditions are drier. These weeds compete with the crop for water and nutrients. To control arising insect and weed issues when it’s dry, it may be beneficial to consider a enhanced control herbicide, such as a residual control herbicide. There are residual herbicides that are exceptionally good on kochia. It may also mean you might have to plan to spray an insecticide in season for grasshoppers in your cereals or flea beetles in your canola. These challenges can be watched carefully throughout the growing season by an agronomist.
Heading into the 2021 crop year, the potential looks very promising, amid the dry conditions. It will be a year of planning to adapt the farming practices that you can use during dry conditions, such as fertilizing, choosing which crops to grow, and in-crop control.
The commodity markets have also been on the rise for some time and are looking very strong with many markets being bullish. Now it’s time to start planning.
For further information, please contact the local SynergyAG representative in your area!