Diseases put a crimp on bumper crop

With much of the 2012 crop now in the bin, reality has come up short of potential for many Central Alberta farmers.

With much of the 2012 crop now in the bin, reality has come up short of potential for many Central Alberta farmers.

Yields have been lower than expected in the case of canola and cereal grains, confirmed Harry Brook, a crop specialist at Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development’s Ag-Info Centre in Stettler. While still in the average range, the outcome is probably disappointing for producers who were gazing at robust-looking fields just a few weeks ago.

“The crops had the growth for probably a bumper crop,” said Brook.

But beneath the leaves, a number of diseases were undermining seed development.

“You could think of a rat chewing on a bag of grain. Huge potential, but by the time they got to open the bag, half the crop was gone.”

Aster yellows, a phytoplasma infection that causes misshapen pods and flower buds, hit canola hard, said Brook.

“In some fields it took upwards of 30 per cent of the yield. That’s huge.”

There were other diseases lurking as well.

“Some producers had some major losses because of sclerotinia, others had major losses due to blackleg,” said Brook.

In the latter case, blackleg-resistant canola was infected by a different strain.

“So, all of a sudden we’re getting losses again.”

Other types of crops were also adversely affected, said Brook, with wheat and barley hit hard by leaf diseases. Even aster yellows could be found in the cereals.

Cool, damp conditions early in the year were mainly responsible for the severity of the disease problems, said Brook.

The temperature has already dipped below zero on a few occasions, but not far enough to cause damage. With harvest more than 90 per cent complete, frost is no longer a concern, said Brook.

However, high winds a few weeks ago took their toll, causing fluffy canola swaths to tumble and lose seeds. And earlier in the year, hail pounded many fields in Central Alberta and beyond.

The last report by the Canadian Crop Hail Association, issued on Aug. 31, said claims in Alberta were at their highest level of the past decade. The number at that point had reached roughly 4,650, with these limited to straight hail claims and not crop insurance endorsements.

Agriculture Financial Services Corp. reported a few days earlier that the hail claims it had processed were about double the annual average.

Still, 2012 yields should net out to average overall, said Brook. Quality is good, he added, and prices remain relatively strong.

“It’s still going to be a good year,” he summed up. “It’s just not going to be a once-in-a-lifetime year.”

hrichards@bprda.wpengine.com

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