Making the best of a bad situation

Central Alberta farmers are in a desperate race with Jack Frost as they try to make the best of a poor growing season.

The Penhold Regional Multiplex is visible in the background as a combine takes off field peas Wednesday.

Central Alberta farmers are in a desperate race with Jack Frost as they try to make the best of a poor growing season.

Many are swathing crops or spraying them with desiccating agents to accelerate the curing process, said Neil Whatley, a crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Ag-Info Centre in Stettler. The result will be lower yields, but that beats the poor grades caused by frost damage.

“There are many, many producers desiccating cereals,” said Whatley, adding that with canola the best technique for drying green kernels is to swath.

The problem in most fields is a mix of green and mature plants — the consequence of some seeds germinating later than others due to poor growing conditions in the spring.

“Sometimes there are two extra crops coming along with the main one that was seeded,” said Whatley. “That’s not the norm though, mostly it’s one extra one coming.”

The cool spring also has crops being about two weeks behind normal. And with frost possible at any time, the clock is ticking.

“It’s time to try to save what’s there, and let the green ones just dry up and blow out the back end of the combine,” said Whatley.

This advice is prudent advice even if only about a third of the seeds are mature, he suggested.

“It’s better to get at it.”

Currently, about 20 per cent of the crops in Central Alberta have been swathed and perhaps five per cent have been harvested, said Whatley. In the latter case, its mostly winter cereals and field peas that have been removed from fields.

“Reported yields so far from the growers are surprising us a little bit; the crops are coming off a little bit better than we thought.

“But it’s still expected to be about 60 per cent of the average yields — average over the last five years.”

In many cases, poor crops were previously harvested as green feed or simply written off.

Although the harvest of field peas only recently started, it appears they’ve fared better than expected, said Whatley.

“Field peas can actually withstand the coolness that did occur earlier in the year.”

Another concern going forward is low moisture levels. That could adversely affect next year’s crops, or this year’s second cut of hay.

Right now, however, producers’ attention is more likely focused on their thermometers.

“If frost can stay away for two more weeks, a lot (of crops) will mature,” said Whatley. “Especially if it’s been desiccated.”

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