By Tim Kalinowski
Late spring seeding always makes for unique challenges for farmers, and this year will likely be no exception, says Harry Brook, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“I don’t think it is that late right now for most of the crops you are growing in southern Alberta; it’s just a matter of how long it takes for it to warm up and how quickly it melts after it warms up,” says Brook. “Chances are is what farmers there are going to be looking at first as the soil starts to warm up is conventional crops like wheat or oats, barley, canola, maybe flax— those things can go in and they can germinate at temperatures of about 5 C.
“Crops like potatoes, soybeans, corn, those crops require temperatures at 10 C-12 C to germinate. They would normally go into the ground later anyway, but it is just they are now going to be seeded later than they usually have been the last couple of years.”
Brook acknowledges some bean crops like pinto beans might be a more complicated consideration this year, depending how the rest of the spring unfolds, but most farmers will likely stick to their seeding plans anyway— especially those engaged in specialty crops like potatoes or sugar beets.
“If it warms quickly then it shouldn’t affect the growing season as much, but if it stays cool and we get the benefit of the snowmelt that might be an issue as to maturity at the other end,” says Brook. “But I would say it’s really still a crap-shoot to say one way or another at this point in time.”
For those with a little more flexibility in their crop choices, it’s a matter of having a Plan B if seeding is pushed back later than expected.
“If you look at the possibilities of the crops out there, and right now amongst the conventional crops the two big possibilities seems to be wheat and canola,” he says. “That will extend into southern Alberta seeding if it takes longer to warm and dry up, and there may be some shifting of acres.
“With canola, even if they get the crop in the ground in early May, there should be no problem harvesting it even with an average summer come August or early September.”
Brook says he doesn’t have a cyrstal ball himself, but long range weather forecasts are predicting cooler than average temperatures this summer, and farmers should be prepared for that, even if those reports don’t turn out to be accurate in the end.
“The Farmer’s Almanac is predicting a cool, wet summer,” he says. “It is borrowing trouble to predict the future, and it will usually find you anyway whether you borrow it or not, but I would say if it is a late seeding, which it kind of looks like it is going to be, and it is a cool spring and summer then you do still developing maturity issues at the other end. Crop disease is also going to be one of your major challenges.
“But the thing about weather in Alberta is it is subject to sometimes drastic change,” he emphasizes. “There is definitely no need to worry yet.”