Major players in the seed industry discuss 2021’s impact when planning for next year
By Kristen Lutz
With harvest season ending, it’s time to reflect on the recent growing season. Although 2021 may have thrown everything it could at producers, experts say there are still lessons to learn that will perhaps act as guidance for what could be an equally challenging 2022.
Reflecting on 2021
“I feel like we can sum up the major challenges for 2021 in one word: drought,” says Rory Cranston, the North American technical development manager at Bayer Crop Science.
The drought, which lasted the majority of the summer, caused a number of concerns for Prairie producers.
Shawn Rempel, district manager at Prograin, believes the challenging year started with early planting dates. “I heard from so many growers that this was the earliest they’ve ever planted,” he says. “In planting season, stress was high and there was no moisture in the forecast. Producers wanted to get as much use from the soil moisture as they could, which led to ultra-early planting days.”
Jeff Loessin, Canadian seeds leader at Corteva Agriscience agrees. “It has been a couple of years in many areas where soil moisture reserves were down, and that impacted early growth and the crop coming up,” he says.
Although, this wasn’t the only point in the season growers saw a rainfall shortage, and “in some cases we had rain in the beginning of the year to help the crops come up, but in a lot of places we didn’t have any significant rain until the later parts of July and August.”
The lack of moisture continued throughout the growing season, which “cascade a lot of issues from this year into next year,” Cranston says. “In the soil, most herbicides break down with microbial degradation, and with the low moisture this will reduce the microbial activity and may cause herbicides to carry over into the next year,” he explains. This can lead to a variety of visual symptoms and potentially have harmful effects on next year’s crop.
Wade Stocker, manager of seed and traits operations at BASF, notes too, that rainfall is a key component to more than the current year. “Rainfall is required to degrade many herbicides. Dry conditions throughout the season pose problems with herbicide carry-over in areas that did not see enough rain,” he explains. “This has been the worst drought season that I can remember, and the effect this could have on herbicide breakdown and the crop in the following year are real.”
The addition of extreme heat makes for almost certain damage. “The drought was topped off with heat for three to four weeks straight,” says Rempel, “and certain crops like canola and wheat will get hammered by [it].”
Kelly Freeman, head of retail operations in Canada at Nutrien Ag Solutions, agrees that “the combination of moisture and heat were big challenges this year.” He adds that these challenges have brought “yields down significantly, approximately 40 per cent.”
Specific timing of this heat was especially damaging to plants. “The early heat in June brought canola plants down, but the heat during flowering really brought the plants down and caused them not to produce seed,” Loessin says.
This is true for all crops, in that the extreme heat and lack of moisture resulted in a lower-than-average yield. “In some areas, between the drought and heat, canola never got into its life cycle in a positive way and the yield is going to be variable because of this,” he explains. “Given the conditions we had, no one will be harvesting a bin buster this year, but some farmers will be happy with the yield they are getting considering weather conditions.”
Stocker adds that the “the combination of frost, extreme drought, high temperatures, winds and hail all contributed to the difficulties growers experienced at harvest with reduced yields.”
Pest effects M
“Almost every crop was affected by grasshoppers,” says Rempel. Freeman agrees, noting, “we started to see pockets of grasshopper infestation in areas with extreme drought.”
The dense populations of grasshoppers followed the lack of rainfall during the spring. “Grasshoppers are a different beast: seed treatments aren’t going to stop them,” says Cranston.
“The best way to control them is moisture, and having their eggs drown. But this year without the moisture, get your boots on the ground and scout and, if they were present at an economic threshold, find a pesticide that will work best for your field to control them,” he explains.
All experts agree that this year was horrible for flea beetles. “They are pretty well accepted as perennial pests here year over year,” Cranston says. “We got a second flush of them right at harvest, and we question if this second wave will add more to the population over the next year. Normally they are really active and most damaging at the emergence to the four-leaf stage and then we say the plant can outgrow them, but this year we saw a mass influx in late August,” he explains.
“Flea beetles put early season pressure on seedling canola,” says Loessin. “This is exacerbated when it’s hot and dry and the plants do not grow very fast. Damage done by flea beetles can be quite severe, not to mention adding spraying for flea beetles to producers’ long list of challenges this year,” he says.
Clubroot continued to be an issue this year with new strains having stronger resistance and overall increased spread of the soil-borne disease. Experts remind producers that crop rotation is important and say rotating canola out after a tough clubroot year may be an effective tactic.
Prepping for next year
Drought and other extreme weather conditions will likely continue into future years. “This year has been connected to the 100-year drought,” says Freeman. The best way producers can prepare for the worst of the worst is reflecting on what they’ve experienced.
“The best product is yourself, your records, your scouting and your boots on the ground,” says Cranston.
It’s that time of year where farmers need to reflect on the issues they had last year, what their concerns are and what the high-risk issues are for next year.
“I think we are going to see a record soil testing year,” says Rempel. A number of experts concur. “People are pulling off a below-average crop and leaving a bunch of fertilizer in the soil. Hopefully growers can figure out what they will be planting next based on what’s left in the soil.”
There’s also much concern for pulses with regards to herbicide degradation according to Stocker. “There are certain rainfall requirements that we are asking producers to be aware of. If there is not enough rainfall then there is not enough herbicide degradation. We want to get this information out there early so growers can consider this when planning and calculate their risk accordingly,” he says.
Freeman promotes that soil testing will be more common this year “because of low yield and lack of nutrient uptake in the soil. Looking at these results will tell you what you need for next year’s crop and which nutrients are low.”
He also recommends a close relationship with your retail supplier. We “continually work with growers throughout the season, right from planting to harvest,” he says. Having a well-formed connection with your supplier can help combat some of the tough decisions when planning for 2022.
Freeman continues and says “a number of markets will be tight following this year. We are not concerned that we do not have the product for our growers — it’s more showing up in the costs of the inputs rather than their availability.”
Although a number of “growers are seeing issues because of the drought, fortunately most seed production is done under irrigation,” says Stocker. “With that being said, there will be some yield reduction because of the heat, and so it’s always good to encourage producers to book their seed early and especially if they want a certain variety or hybrid,” he says.
“Planning is key and working with your supplier to make decisions on what to grow, spray and the nutritional needs for each field is a place to start,” Freeman says.
Loessin advises to “do the right thing at the right time with regards to planting and crop protection. Continue to scout your fields and make adjustments along the way. Certainly, this year was challenging but I wouldn’t say there is nothing we can’t learn from it and we can’t plan next year based off this year alone. At the end of the day no one knows what the weather will be, but you need to have some options regardless of what is coming at you.”
Herbicide carry-over and residual fertility can be damaging on a number of crops, and growers need to be aware of these consequences. “There will be lots of information coming from companies about high-risk herbicides and keeping up on these, and what their recommendations are, can be beneficial to growers in their decision-making process,” says Cranston.
In terms of prepping for challenges similar to this year’s, Rempel recommends concentrating on harvest practices and refining them to set yourself up for success come spring.
“Is there anything we can do differently to create snow catch? Snow catch in our fields makes a massive difference on available moisture and can change our future crop,” he says.
Cranston expands on the idea. “Not a lot of straw, stalks or biomass in the fields to collect snow can result in low moisture in the ground which is not a good starting point for next year. A lot of the biomass was taken for livestock and this is going to impact next year’s (method of capturing) moisture and (soil moisture) is going to be less than ideal.”
Experts recommend leaving a larger quantity of biomass in the fields over the winter to sustain soil moisture for the up coming spring by changing soil tilling practices post harvest.
Strong products for tough years
With the numerous challenges 2021 has brought to producers and suppliers alike, certain products have been more popular as they prove to stand against the harsh conditions.
Before seeding, experts recommend producers select a seed treatment that can fend off or deter common pests. Seed treatment is the first defense against flea beetles. Several companies are recommending adding Lumiderm on top of your base treatment to assist in repelling flea beetles.
“We are seeing seed treatments for protecting against flea beetles not going as far as they have before,” says Cranston. “We have a new seed treatment called BUTEO Start, which is available on a lot of our licensed seeds and Dekalb seeds,” he adds. This new formula has higher protection against flea beetles.
BASF also recently launched a new seed treatment. “Vercoras will be the new base seed treatment for all InVigor hybrid canola products in the future. It’s a great seed treatment that has similar attributes to others on the market with the addition of being the first complete seed treatment to control airborne blackleg,” says Stocker.
Planting a hybrid with pod shatter reduction can help with added protection against extreme weather conditions. “Pick a hybrid that is performing well in your area, and planting more than one hybrid is key in spreading your risk” says Stocker.
“We are excited to be launching two new hybrids to our InVigor portfolio,” says Stocker, “both with pod shatter reduction technology. InVigor L356PC will have first-generation clubroot resistance while InVigor L343PC has second-generation clubroot resistance for farmers in clubroot affected areas who are concerned with first generation clubroot resistance breakdown. Now is the time to consider switching to second generation clubroot resistant hybrids.”
Although soybeans may like the heat a little more than canola, they tend to need more rainfall than what was given this year. Prograin is known for its IP conventional soybean products and are starting to explore more of the GMO side of the market.
“There is a new variety called MIKADO R2X. It covers a lot of Western Canada and has good middle maturity. It can go in a lot of tough ground and grow really well in good productive soil,” Rempel says.
Predictions for 2022
All commodities are valued extremely highly this year with the less-than-average yield farmers are pulling off their fields. However, fertilizer and pesticide prices have been skyrocketing with the weather conditions being ideal for all pests. Yet, experts predict there will be a lot of changes to some standard practices around the farm.
Rempel believes that soybeans are “going to get a good hard look this year.” With soybeans being a C4 plant, they can withstand the heat more than other crops. He also believes “they are one of the easiest crops to manage,” and mentions that in the middle of the summer they need little to no management which allows producers to leave the farm for some time away or make more time to manage other things on the farm.
Stocker is hopeful for heavy snowfall this winter, followed by some spring rains.
“If there is good moisture going into spring and commodity prices stay strong, then we will see a large canola year. If all this happens then growers may think of shortening rotations. We encourage them to control their volunteer canola which can have many negative effects on their planted canola hybrids. This is a key component in setting up for success,” he says.
Experts believe that commodity prices will continue to be elevated in 2022. With hopes that rainfall will be higher than it was this year, experts forecast crops will be slightly higher yielding. High commodity prices and more average yields can set farmers up for a profitable year in 2022. BF