Archive for May, 2009

The Two F’s: Frost and Flea Beetles

May 28, 2009

By Garth Donald, CCA,Western Canadian Manager of Agronomy, Dynagra

I can honestly say that it has been a while since I have been on my hands and knees trying to see if there is any life left in a canola plant but this last week it has occurred more than I would like it to. When the temperature drops overnight my phone is ringing like crazy trying to figure out if there is damage to the canola seedlings. The best thing to do is to leave the field for two to three days so that you can make a sound judgement call. What is a sound judgement call? Well working with the Canola Council for over thirteen years the numbers of plant we are looking for is four per square foot.

I know most growers say that there are not enough plants but we do have to look at a few factors:

1. Most growers are growing a hybrid variety
2. Our seed to soil placement has been greatly enhanced with today’s airdrills
3. We have chemical options with the herbicide tolerant varieties that will control our weed issues.

These are some things we need to strongly look at when making a judgement decision. Price of the commodity is the last thing we should make our decision on because in a strong market those could be some of the worst decisions ever made and it could be a wreck from the word go

With the issues of frost also comes the issue of flea beetles. Remember everyone, the flea beetles have to chew on the plant to die. With that said you will see some skinning of the leaves which is normal. However, with products like Helix and Prosper there is only fourteen days of control with those products. The control guarantee starts from the time it is in the ground not from emergence. In times of cooler temperatures there is canola that may have have emerged after 21 days. With flea beetles, your head lands are the best place to start looking for damage since they do feed on host plants like stinkweed or wild mustard that are usually growing on the edges of the fields. If you start seeing what is called “shotgun blasting” on your leaves you may need to look at spraying. There are lots of options that can be tank mixed in with your chemical when you are making your first pass which can help on your application cost but if they are bad enough then you might have to spray for them alone.

If you are not sure if you have a problem, call your local seed rep, retail or consultant to get you the information you need to make a sound decision.

Those are my thoughts,

H1N1 Is Not A Food Safety Issue

May 27, 2009

Pigs are a host for the H1N1 virus, and yet while no pigs died directly because of the virus, it was called “swine flu” and the news story became focused on food safety. It sprung a lot of attention onto concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFO) as if the food supply is not safe anymore because of H1N1. Like what happened with BSE, people quickly moved to the worst-case scenario and not the story closer to reality. In reality, these are animal health issues and not food safety issues based on the good detection work of CFIA. BSE and H1N1 are not CAFO issues either. If you fed contaminated feed to your free-range cows, they would be just as susceptible to BSE as the cow in the feedlot. As agriculturalists, we need to grab a hold of these media spins quicker and be more proactive in terms of public relations. The unnecessary pain and damage to our industry is too great.

Branding Is A Ranching Tradition

May 23, 2009

By Megan Oleksyn

From roping and riding to pulling a calf at 40 below, there are many traditions that go along with the ranching lifestyle. Branding livestock is one of those traditions that is still upheld to this day in Alberta. But when did the smell of burning hair become indicative of a tradition? And when did that evolve to the branding I worked this month, where cowboys hold reins between their teeth as they reply to an email on their BlackBerry?

The origin of branding livestock dates from 2700 B.C. where paintings in Egyptian tombs document branding oxen with hieroglyphics. Ancient Greeks and Romans marked livestock and slaves alike with a hot iron. Hernando Cortez introduced livestock branding from Spain to the New World in 1541 when he brought over cattle stamped with his mark of three crosses.

The original Spanish brands were, as a rule, complicated and beautifully rich in design but not always practical. The early American ranchers wanted more simple designs that were easy to remember, easily made, that did not blotch and that were hard to alter. These European customs were imported to the Americas and were further refined by the vaquero tradition in what today is the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
From the Americas, many cattle branding traditions and techniques spread to Australia, where a distinct set of traditions and techniques developed. Livestock branding has been practiced in Australia since 1866, but it was not until 1897 that each owner had to register his brand. These fire and paint brands could not then be duplicated legally.

In Alberta, the first law that required the branding of livestock was passed at the second session of the North West Territories government on August 1, 1878. The next day, brand registration became the law, making it necessary to record every brand used in the territory that eventually became Alberta. When cattle brands are registered, they may be used in one of six positions on an animal: the shoulder, rib or hip on either the left or right side. When horse brands are registered, they may be used in one of six positions on the animal: the jaw, shoulder or thigh on either the left or right side.

Brands have now been registered in Western Canada for more than 125 years. Brands as a form of ownership in community pasture or the selling ring, are a clear way to identify the origin of the animal. Sometimes, the brands become better known than the individuals who use them.

But to those individuals, “ Branding is more than just a way of identifying cattle, it is a social event, a way to bring together community and a way of making a large task fun,” says Derek Westman, 4th generation rancher with Westman Farms out of Vermilion, AB.
At the Westman Farms branding, over 50 people ride to bring in the herd which spans many different pastures. The path home consists of as many fields as possible, but the highway is the last step in getting the cattle into the yard. “For every mile of road, there’s two miles of ditch. The odds are against us,” Derek tells me with a smile as he sends me out on another pasture run. Branding as long as he can remember, Derek plans to take over the W – F brand when he takes over the farm. The brand was developed by his dad, Murray, when he took over the farm approximately 30 years ago.
To the Westmans branding is not just about protecting cattle, it’s about tradition, family and community. As part of a branding circuit in the area, the Westmans ride and brand at many other neighbouring ranches. “Many hands make light work,” Derek says as he tells me that there were over 50 riders bringing in cattle the day I rode, and 2 or 3 times that many people the next day for the actual branding and processing of the 550 calves that got done.

While many traditions get lost in the generation gap or the technology takeover, young ranchers like Derek prove that some traditions will carry on no matter what.

Agriculture Enthusiasm Grows With Every Generation

May 22, 2009

I really enjoy the spring time because it is a great time to interact with farmers as they proceed on a new planting season. The spring is always full optimism for farmers no matter the size of the operation. Big or small I enjoy talking to all customers about their seeding intentions and plans for the growing season. This year I really took notice to the contrast in sizes of the customers operations. From 80 to 35000 acre customers, all posing different challenges for me as the retailer. The picture to the left is of a customer our farm has had for a long time. Every year Leonard (Digger) Dunn comes to the farm to pick up seed for the Prairie Tractor and Engine Society. I love talking to Leonard about the old truck and what is happening at the tractor club this year.

To me Leonard represents what is cool about agriculture. Every town has a Leonard Dunn that really never stops working on a truck or tractor because it is in his blood. He lives for the lifestyle of agriculture and the hard work it brings along with the celebration of another harvest completed.

Agriculture is getting more and more sophisticated but due to the complexities of mother nature you need to have a passion for the industry to survive in the long term. Leonard may not know much about auto steer, GMO’s, variable rate, or seed polymers but he does understand the passion of agriculture. Take the time this season to talk to the Leonard Dunn in your area and just talk about agriculture.

Biotech Wheat Coalition is Formed to Push the Need For Biotech Wheat

May 20, 2009
Canadian, Australian and American wheat organizations have formed the Biotech Wheat Coalition “in support for more efficient, sustainable and profitable production of wheat around the world”. See the Joint Statment Here

As has discussed before the need for biotech wheat is rising and the usual roadblocks are presenting themselves as discussed by the Canadian Wheat Board in a Reuters Story on May 15th.
  • Wheat Board wants assurance of market acceptance
  • GM wheat seen unpopular with many overseas customers
  • Must be assurances that the GM wheat could be segregated from the non-GM wheat.

Biotech is the avenue for pull type traits to become a reality in wheat. I take issue with Mr. Klassen’s comments in the Reuters piece as he explains that producers have made production adjustments on their farm production practices and conventional breeding has proven to provide some of the same benefits to farmers as biotech wheat would. How does this apply to things like fusarium prevention, improved food taste, nitrogen use efficiency and drought tolerance?

In reaction to the wheat boards usual joust that we have no way of segregating the conventional varieties and biotech varieties, I say that maybe we should start building a grain handling system that promotes new markets and identity preserved variety systems instead of forcing farmers to produce a homogeneous product against lower cost rivals in South America. Somehow in Canada farmers produce non-GM and GM canola and accomplish segregation. Why could this not work in wheat as well? Please remember that trait development is no longer just about production traits but pull type traits that will directly benefit consumers, which in my opinion will lead to the global acceptance of GMO’s.

As stated in the Canadian Press Release—The application of biotechnology in wheat research could lead to the development of several traits to improve wheat yields and wheat quality.  Traits to improve yields could include those that deal with environmental factors (e.g. drought, cold tolerance), combat weed or insect infestations (e.g. midge, sawfly), improve disease resistance (e.g. fusarium, rust) or improve the wheat plant’s utilization of nutrients.   Traits to improve the quality attributes of wheat could include those that are designed to accommodate consumers with food allergies, reduce obesity, or improve the nutritional profile of wheat-based foods.

If anything, it is at least time that we reinvigorate the discussion around biotech wheat and not fall into the same roadblocks and instead begin working towards solutions for those roadblocks.  Lets talk to our overseas buyers and discuss the benefits biotech wheat could provide.  For example, ask 10 bakers if they would like a grain that would extend the life of a loaf of bread by 2 days.  What would the net impact be on a hog farm that could buy fusarium free wheat to feed to their hogs.  Or maybe ask a pasta maker, would he like a durum that would produce ultra low cadmium levels or improve the production process by a significant amount.  

One thing proven this past week is that this nonsense that farmers do not accept GM crops but instead they are pushed on them by large multi nationals is ridiculous based on the resounding collective voice heard throughout the world by wheat growers in forming this biotech wheat coalition.

Kevin Grier, George Morris Center—Alberta Changes Association Checkoff Rules

May 20, 2009

Last month the Alberta Government announced that they were changing the checkoff rules for pork, beef, potatoes and lamb in the province. This has been a very controversial topic because of the massing theories as to what will happen with that money if a refund is requested.

I spoke to Kevin Grier, Senior Market Analyst at the George Morris Center as to what he thought would come of the new check off rules.

“I am in favor of check off in support of ABP and Alberta Pork. If producers don’t think their association is doing a good job, then they need to participate and make changes through the structure. The issue in Alberta was probably brought to a head due to the ongoing structural and strategic differences among the cattle organizations. These differences, however, are not new and they exist across the country, so Alberta is not unique. Every province has friction between sectors of the cattle industry.

What is unique to Alberta, however, is the emergence of the new grant program, ALMA. The government, at least under the current minister, seems to want the new grant program to provide the leadership to the entire livestock industry. The minister has decided that government money, under the direction of very qualified and intelligent people from the industry, is going to lead to a more successful industry. I don’t see it.”

I would like to thank Kevin for his comments and encourage people to subscribe to any of Kevin’s publications; Canadian Cattle Buyer, Grocery Trade Review, Canadian Boxed Beef Report, Canadian Chicken Market Review or the Canadian Pork Review.

Do You Know What Is In Your Ground?

May 15, 2009

Will spring ever come? That was definitely the question I had to ask everyone today. With the cool weather I figured it was a good day to get my agronomy staff get ready for the scouting season so we went checking some fields for weeds and we found a little bit more that what we bargained for. As far as the weeds go, they have been very slow due to the cold temperatures but underneath the ground was a different story. In the one field we found some pale western cut worms which we don’t normally see but can do a lot of damage to the crop. But the main pest we found today was wire worms. Now a lot of growers tell me that they can never find wire worms but there is a trick when looking for them. They are usually located very close to the soil surface so you don’t want to be digging, more like flicking the dirt away. They will move up and down through the soil but this time of the year I tend to find them at the soil surface. Now the adults are a creamy yellow to orange in color an around a inch long. These are the easy ones to find but the very young wire worms are the tough ones to see. They are a clear to white in color and move very quickly in the soil. Today we found 3 adults and 2 infants in a 6 inch by 6 inch square. There is no real firm threshold for wire worms but the number that is in the industry seems to be 1 worm per bait ball (most bait balls are made from oatmeal which the wire worms seem to like to eat).

So what does this all mean? Well we would normally just say that we had seed rot or disease that caused us to have a lower plant population than normal. But without taking a look we could have wire worm damage and not even realize it. Now for all of you with seed in the ground there is no option for controlling wire worms unless you used Cruiser Maxx Cereals for cereals. Cruiser Maxx Cereals is the only seed treatment registered in cereals for control of wire worms as of today. Bayer Crop Science is working on having their product Raxil W/W registered but it looks like it will not be available until next year. You are probably saying to yourself “this is great information but a little to late to help me.” With scouting for underground pest and understanding the levels we can make a sound decision for the next year. In agriculture we are famous in just saying”Well if I found them in one field they will be in all of my fields so we might as well just treat everything!” This statement can be true but with proper scouting we can identify the fields that have a problem and treat them instead of the whole farm.

Those are my thoughts,
Garth Donald C.C.A

Seeding Update is Not Pretty

May 14, 2009

No matter who you talk to across the Northen US and Canada, seeding is behind schedule. Late seeding can lead to a multitude of challenges for the crop throughout the rest of the year. Whether it is wheat, canola, soybeans or corn many farmers are racing against father time to get this years crop seeded.

When I talked to Warren Kaeding of Wagon Wheel Seeds in Churchbridge Saskatchewan (southeast SK), he said their area is 20-25% with moist but cool soil temperatures. North of Highway 16 (Yellowhead) leads to snow every three to four days with most farmers at 10% completed.

In talking to Brent Gatzke a farmer just outside of Swift Current, he comments that seeding in Southwestern Saskatchewan is 50-100% finished depending on where you are.

In Southern Alberta the weather seeding is underway with most farms in he 20% – 40% finished. Some early planters are very close to being finished. The southwest is very wet (still getting snow) while the southeast is very dry.

Manitoba and the Dakota’s are very wet and cold. It would be tough to convince many of these growers that winter has ended.

Ontario is anywhere from 10-60% seeded in corn and 5% in soybeans while Quebec is over 60% finished seeding corn due to warm temperatures over the past 10 days. As you look over the entire midwest heavy rains have significantly delayed seeding in corn. For eaxample Illinois is 10% seeded which is much lower than the 84% average said a farmer.

All of this is leading to the enevitable question how will an already expected decrease in corn acres and the apparent late seeding affect the price of corn through the summer. Only time will tell.

It Is Not Possible To Get H1N1 From Eating Pork – Dr. Cate Dewey

May 14, 2009

Since H1N1 became an issue there has been a lot of speculation and sensationalism around whether or not it is safe to consume pork. We even had a hog farm in Alberta quarantined to contain the virus from spreading to neighboring farms. I first saw Dr. Cate Dewey, University of Guelph, on the CBC National when the H1N1 first hit the news and she explained then how H1N1 spreads and how pork was safe. Of course this was buried in the back end of the newscast after there was 45 minutes of “SWINE FLU–THE NEXT PANDEMIC?”

In this video Dr. Dewey clearly explains that. “The virus will entirely contained in the lungs of the pig. The influenza virus never goes into the blood of the pig and it never goes into the muscle of the pig. So pork is safe.”

It really does beg the question why did we ever call it swine flu. The damage that has been done to the food safety perception of pork will take a long time to build back. The unfortunate part is that in reality it was much to about nothing in terms of food safety. Put some pork on your fork this long weekend because Dr. Cate Dewey and I said so.

Breaking Down the Sustainable vs. Conventional Farming Debate

May 8, 2009

Tuesday on #agchat there was quite the discussion about many agricultural topics (see the Agwired review). The whole goal of agchat is to discuss the five questions posed by the moderator @mpaynknoper. The goal is not to have specifically a pro GMO or organic discussion but rather a pro agriculture discussion with all stakeholders.

I will save you from all the details of the battle that has been raging on twitter this week regarding sustainable versus conventional farming but the reality is that both sides need to start to listen to each other. We need to get past the rhetoric that Monsanto is the evil empire and all people that eat organic food smoke pot and live in a grass hut down by the river. Today, a pro sustainable ag blogger posted some thoughts that showcase how strong the rift is between sustainable and conventional agriculture.

There is a place for both sustainable and conventional agriculture in the marketplace. For either side to suggest that we should do away with the other would be ignoring the demands of the end user. There is demand for both sustainable products and conventional products in the marketplace.

My wish is that the pro sustainable (organic) believers would take off the “Monsanto is evil” blinders and start realizing that transgenic traits do serve a beneficial purpose to the marketplace. I have many friends at Syngenta, Monsanto, Dow Agro, Bayer and Pioneer Hybrid and I can tell you none of those people are evil or want to control the food system. I would encourage all of my sustainable (pro organic) friends on Twitter and abroad to start opening their mind to what is really happening in agriculture (get it…….RealAgriculture).