Cash Crop Reflections & Projections

Even before the combines have finished rolling in 2021’s crops, producers have started thinking about plans for next season’s corn and soybeans.

By Jackie Clark

2021 will go down in history as another unforgettable year.

Continued disruptions to work and everyday life due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unpredictable, variable weather have presented challenges to growers across Ontario.

“We as an agricultural industry are quite resilient, particularly our farm customers. Despite all the disruptions that we’ve come through, generally speaking I think that farmers dealt with it extremely well,” Jeff Loessin, Canadian seeds team leader at Corteva Agriscience, tells Better Farming.

That reassurance in agriculture’s adaptability and persistence should serve farmers well when planning for 2022 and beyond, and provides a metaphor for the agronomic resilience producers want to see in their crops. Which seeds will grow into corn and soybeans that can continue to accumulate yield and preserve quality, even in adverse conditions?

Better Farming connected with seed experts from across the ag industry to discuss how lessons learned from the 2021 cropping season may impact next year’s planting decisions.

#Plant21

“We learn a lot early in the spring, and then often by harvest season we have forgotten about those mishaps or observations we made then,” says Matt Chapple, market development agronomist with PRIDE Seeds. It’s important to reflect on “what we liked or didn’t like and what we need to work on for the next growing season.”

How was the 2021 planting season? It depends on who you ask.

“We’re already forgetting about it in the summer but we had a very dry planting season and so I’d want to re-mention that,” says Curtis Van Laecke, head of research and product advancement for Horizon Seeds Canada. “Planter performance is really accentuated in a dry planting season.”

Loessin agrees. “The importance of planting into good soil conditions was highlighted this year,” he explains. “When farmers are ready to plant, they’ve got to make sure the soil’s ready to plant, and if the soil’s ready to plant, farmers better be ready to plant.”

In other regions, planting conditions were ideal.

corn field on a sunny day
    Kaitland Miller (Winfield United MDM) photo

“We had one of the best planting seasons on record this year, so all of the corn and soybeans that got planted came up very, very well,” Bob Thirlwall, market development agronomist for Bayer, tells Better Farming. “Right now that’s contributed to a very lush canopy in soybeans and really strong stands in corn.”

Will Trudell, vice-president of De Dell Seeds, agrees. “The weather that we’ve been given has really made the crops look fantastic,” he says. However, some corn stands in eastern Ontario showed “uneven variation where there were dry periods during germination.”

Marc Saumure, district sales manager for eastern Ontario and the Maritimes for Prograin, saw similar challenges in soybeans.

With dry, warm spring conditions “some soybeans were planted by the end of April,” he said. “Then we had a severe drought with no rain for about five consecutive weeks.”

Germination and uneven emergence were a challenge, and some growers had to replant into still dry conditions, he adds. Soybean stands rebounded once rain finally arrived though.

In the western parts of the province, it was a different story.

“My territory is basically Owen Sound down to Amherstburg, and everybody got their crops in on time so it was a nice dry spring and that’s usually pretty unheard of,” Kaitland Miller, market development manager for southern Ontario with Winfield United Canada says. “Then it started raining and never stopped.”

Moisture and frost impacted some regions of the province.

“It was an interesting season that started dry for planting and turned wet during the growing season,” Mark Lawton, agronomy and technical manager for Syngenta Seeds in Canada, tells Better Farming. “There were some pockets of unusual late May frost that hurt some corn and soybean acres. Lots of rain during the season resulted in standing water in some fields and some unhappy yellow soybeans that did eventually recover.”

Dry conditions early in the season meant some growers “pushed the window on getting crop in early, especially on clay soils,” says Chapple. “Clay soils need heat before they’re really ready to be tilled in the spring or even planted. Often when we have issues in the spring it’s on those clay soils, and maybe we were on them a few days early and were unable to get proper depth or good seed-to-soil contact.”

He observed some soybean disease early in the season.

“We saw some pythium and phytophthora really early in the growing season, basically associated with cool, maybe damp soils,” he adds. “Those observations from this growing season should influence how we choose our seed treatments, and different variety tolerance to disease.”

Those who had early soybean disease probably want a fungicide seed treatment, he explains. “If we’re looking at pushing the window and planting early, we need to know that we have good hybrid vigour and good emergence ratings.”

Scouting this season

Pest and disease challenges cropped up at different points throughout the 2021 season.

“All of the scouting tips and management practices that we constantly talk about as an ag industry are so important this year,” Willie Vanderpol says. She’s in charge of market development for SeCan in southwestern Ontario.

“There’s only so much we can control by selecting a soybean variety, and then the rest falls to some of the management decisions we make in the field,” she says.

For wet areas in the province, disease has been an issue.

“With the amount of growth we’ve had, fungicides will really pay off,” Thirlwall says. In soybeans, white mould is proving to be a problem.

Miller agrees. Farmers “that don’t normally spray fungicides are spraying this year.” Winfield United provides response scores for every hybrid for in-season management. “If I’m a farmer and I have a hybrid with a good response to fungicide score on that corn hybrid, then it’s a no-brainer.”

Farmers have been on the lookout for some key pests this season as well.

“Western bean cutworm (WBC) and corn rootworm continue as insect management priorities in key corn production areas,” Lawton says.

In the eastern parts of the province “we had some fields that were sprayed for soybean aphids. Dry conditions seem to be conducive to this pest showing up,” Saumure explains. Where conditions were wetter, growers observed phytophthora. Because phytophthora persists in the soil, “it seems to be appearing more and more because of less-than-ideal rotations.”

Growers in that region are also starting to test fields for soybean cyst nematode (SCN) and take steps to protect crops, he adds.

Overall, growers are seeing “more disease and insect pressure as the summer progresses, so hybrids that are more tolerant to a disease or have GMO protection from certain insects would be a key decision-maker for future planting,” Van Laecke says.

Protect against pests

Most farmers are likely familiar with the suite of tools available to them to prevent insects, weeds and diseases from robbing their yield, however the seed experts provide a few key reminders.

“SCN is the number one yield robber in North America and a lot of growers don’t even know they have it. So, if you can pick a variety that has that protection it’s one less thing to worry about,” Miller says.

Vanderpol agrees. “From a genetics perspective, SCN resistance is imperative in a lot of areas,” she says. “Sudden death syndrome is tied to SCN and that’s cropping up, so when producers are selecting a variety they should pick a resistant variety and not just rely on seed treatments.”

When faced with “phytophthora root and stem rot, there is some genetic tolerance from RPS genes,” she adds.

Saumure agrees. “New traits like RPS3A and RPS6 are giving much better protection when the disease is present,” he says.

In corn, the Trecepta RIB Complete trait from Bayer “brings broad-spectrum above-ground insect control and WBC control,” says Andrew Chisholm, trait and trait launch manager for Bayer. The trait is a good option for growers who have pests such as European corn borer in addition to WBC.

“Producers that have that trait in their fields don’t need to spray for WBC, so that’s quite a cost savings,” Thirlwall adds.

It can also be helpful to have that trait in corn fields in case late flights come after the typical spraying time, Miller says.

“With the rain and moisture that Ontario has had, this is good because it protects against wounds existing on the ear, so it could be a tool in the toolbox for DON,” Chisholm explains. Of course, to prevent resistance and maximize yield and crop quality, the trait “needs to be used in combination with other management practices.”

Market conditions

Beyond agronomy, commodity market factors may impact planting and management decisions.

“Given where commodity prices are, it’s imperative that you manage your crop the way it deserves to be managed,” Vanderpol says.

Lawton agrees. “The rapid rise in commodity prices in the spring was a bit of a surprise, so the decisions farmers made and continue to make to grow the best crop have never been more important,” he says.

At the end of winter and beginning of spring “we saw crop prices shoot up,” says Trudell. Adverse weather conditions across the globe have the potential to keep global markets for agricultural commodities strong.

“Market conditions always impact planting intentions for next year,” Thirlwall says. “We’ve had great pricing opportunities over the last few months, so many growers will have already priced some very strong prices into next spring.”

In terms of more specialized markets, Prograin “offers a full lineup of IP varieties,” says Saumure. Producers can get soybean seed for specific processing markets like tofu and miso. For “growers looking to improve their bottom line, it’s definitely a great option for them to consider ... demand is still very high for plant-based protein.”

For conventional soybeans, “weed management can be a little bit challenging, but growers see the opportunity of making extra profit margin,” he adds.

Other companies are also tapping into that demand.

“Interest in sources of plant protein remains strong with consumers, and our NK conventional soybeans remain a focus for Syngenta as a choice for farmers,” Lawton says.

How to plan ahead

Continuously taking stock of agronomic challenges, market conditions and product options all contribute to seed selection and crop planning.

Planter
    Adam Pfeffer photo

“Remember the planting season and growing conditions that you had, whether it’s a successful crop or not, you still need to remember what you learned from it to not remake the same mistakes,” Van Laecke explains.

Sometimes “it is tricky to know what we did right or what we did wrong until harvest comes,” Thirlwall says.

And in farming “you kind of have to make decisions for next year before you get the current year’s results,” adds Miller.

However, not having a complete picture of 2021 yet doesn’t have to hinder your thoughtful choices for 2022.

“You always want to make sure you don’t make your decisions off of one year,” Chisholm says.

Trudell agrees. Don’t let one year’s bumper crop influence your decision making, he says. “This year, farmers might get excited because we had ample heat, ample moisture, and realistically you could’ve planted something a couple hundred heat units longer than your typical season. But don’t get overzealous and think that we’re going to see that again next year.”

If you do and don’t get the weather you need, you could end up with frost damage or high-moisture corn.

“Every year is different and plan for your average instead of for the extremes,” Trudell adds.

Knowing your farm and having strong communication with your seed representative are crucial for effective crop planning.

“Farmers will continue to look for strong performing corn hybrids with effective insect management traits, and will continue to look for choices in soybeans that solve their weed management needs and provide more end use market opportunities,” Lawton says

Furthermore, farmers will need to focus more on their specific needs.

They “need to have conversations with their crop supplier about what makes the most sense for their field conditions. It really comes back to scouting and paying attention to what’s happening on your farm to help you make good decisions going forward,” says Chisholm.

Knowing which pest challenges are more likely to be a problem on their farms can help producers select optimal genetics.

“I think it’s really important that growers consider their herbicide management strategies,” says Chapple.

“A grower needs to carefully consider what their weed spectrum is” to match their genetics and herbicide practices to their individual weed challenges.

Saumure agrees. “Herbicide programs need to be tailored to encompass specific weed pressure as well as the management strategies being used, so that the farmer gets the best out of the varieties,” he says.

In addition to weeds, farmers should be “keeping an eye on what the disease pressure was this year and have a good understanding of what options exist going into this coming year,” Loessin says.

To help make optimal choices, seed representatives can “become a partner on the farm and not just be a salesperson,” says Saumure. Through that partnership, seed experts “build this knowledge of (pest) pressure and rotation history, so they can provide the best options for the best petitioning of the varieties on the farm, to help the growers make the best decisions on a field-by-field basis.”

close up of seed
    Andrew Chisholm photo

Overall, seed selection includes “considering all of the factors that you have some control over when you pick a variety, and then managing accordingly when you get out scouting,” Vanderpol says.

New offerings

Seed companies across Ontario have a variety of new options for corn and soybean seed.

Bayer’s XtendFlex soybeans will be available for the 2022 season. They are resistant to glyphosate, dicamba and glufosinate, Chisholm and Thirwell explain.

SeCan will have two XtendFlex varieties available, Vanderpol says. Those genetics offer producers “more options and multiple modes of action to manage those harder-to-manage weeds, and in some cases resistant weeds like palmer amaranth or waterhemp.”

Winfield United offers WinPak soybean seeds, which contain two hybrids with the same maturity and complimentary agronomics in the same bag, Miller explains.

For 2022 “we have quite a few more Enlist options, including two more Enlist WinPaks along with five Extend WinPaks,” she says. “Now we have WinPak options for growers in the 0.5 to 2.4 maturity range.”

Prograin carries Enlist options as well, ranging from 000.7 to 0.8 relative maturity, Saumure says. That trait combined with Enlist Duo herbicide is a good tool for weed management and resistance prevention.

They also have “a full lineup of Xtend soybeans, ranging from 000.9 to 1.5 maturity, with five new varieties,” he adds.

Horizon seeds is “launching two more E3 bean hybrids at a 0.7 and a 0.9 relative maturity,” Van Laecke says.

Over at Syngenta, “our NK product lineup for 2022 in Ontario includes the choice of Roundup Ready 2 Yield, Roundup Ready 2 Xtend and Enlist E3 soybeans. In 2022 we are introducing three new Enlist E3 soybean cultivars,” Lawson explains.

On the corn side of things, Syngenta has four new NK seed hybrids available for 2022.

“All four new products have the Agrisure Duracade trait stacks that provide comprehensive above and below ground insect control of key pests, which includes a unique mode of action for corn rootworm, combined with a second proven mode of action for corn rootworm,” Lawson says.

Winfield United has “a brand new 97-day Trecepta corn that has protection for WBC,” Miller explains.

PRIDE Seeds also has “more Trecepta products in the lineup,” says Chapple. For 2022 they will also have “a Duracade rootworm product that’s ideally placed for growers who have long term corn-on-corn rotations.”

De Dell specializes in conventional corn options. “We’re introducing three new hybrids this year,” says Trudell. One is a “conventional grain corn hybrid with really good spring vigour, consistent, good standability and root strength. We’re also introducing an organic-only hybrid with really good spring vigour that covers those rows to help with weed control. It also has really good test weight and excellent grain quality.”

The third new option is silage-specific, he explains. “We’re calling that one Decadent, and the tagline behind that is that ‘your cows will love this decadent treat.’”

Horizon Seeds also has new corn offerings, with “three new leafy, silage-specific hybrids that range from 91 to 98 relative maturity,” Van Laecke says. They also have a new 101-day maturity hybrid with the Agrisure Viptera trait.

Corteva is continuing to ramp up offerings for reliable traits in both corn and soybeans, including Enlist E3 beans, Loessin says. “That technology is really important because the herbicide is so reliable to land and stays on target.”

The company is “continuing to make sure we have diversity in the SCN resistant offering that we’ve got in our germplasm,” he explains. They are also promoting strong agronomic traits for white mould resistance.

In corn, “we’re working on bringing through out Powercore Enlist products into the germplasm in the next couple of years,” he adds.

Success beyond 2022

Your plans for your farm today, and the priorities of the crop genetics industry, will impact the entire future of the operation in the near- and long-term.

“The way the forecast looks today, the commodity prices for all crops are going to remain strong. So, people need to consider their long-term rotation on their farm and how they’re going to manage that for productivity,” Loessin says. That includes diversity, fertility and crop protection.

Key lessons from each season accumulate over time.

“I think it would be good practice if farmers started a journal to jot down a key takeaway or a learning point from every cropping season,” Miller says. Then, in the future, “you’re going to have a book with 40 years of cropping data from your own farm.”

Crop genetics and seed experts can be useful partners on that journey of continual learning on the farm. BF

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