Saturday November 22, 2014

Spring on the prairies


This has been an interesting spring for farmers on the Prairies, although I am sure farmers might suggest most springs have their share of challenges.

Certainly back in March it looked as though farmers were on the verge of an early spring. That is always a good thing since it has been shown most crops have more potential to produce if they are seeded early.

Of course April saw the chance of a lot of early seeded crop go by the wayside, and May was only slightly better, with rain an all too regular occurrence. It was not the sheer amount of rain which fell, but the fact the rain fell on already saturated soil. The last two years have been abnormally wet in most areas, and coming into spring it remained so.

Yet as we now drive around we see much of the crop is in the ground.

The situation is one which speaks to the dramatic change which has taken place in farming in terms of seeding crop.

When I was a youngster growing up in the 1960s, farmers planted half their crop, leaving the other half fallow.

My father, and most producers at that time, used press drills to plant a crop. The press drill required a basically level, summerfallow field in which to seed. That meant farmers had to use cultivators to turn under stubble, and harrows to smooth fields first.

It meant farmers had to make several passes over a field before seeding was complete.

Technology has changed that.

Developments in seeding technology, much of it by short-line manufacturers here in Saskatchewan, have allowed producers to turn to direct seeding.

The switch over has had a two-fold effect on farming.

On the one hand direct seeding, the ability to seed into standing stubble left from the previous year’s crop, has reduced the potential impact of wind and water erosion on fields. The stubble protects the soil from being impacted by the effects of wind blowing over the land, or water running over it.

The other benefit of direct seeding is the speed in which farmers can now plant a crop. In most cases it is a one-pass operation. With the size of equipment that means farmers plant a lot of acres in a single day.

That is why you can drive around this week, and in spite of a fairly short window in terms of dry weather farmers have managed to put in a lot of acres. One conversation I had with a retired farmer a week ago. He still helps on an area farm, and estimated seeding was 50 per cent complete. Given the good weather the last week, that will be much higher by now, and if the weather holds seeding, while later than originally expected, should be completed.

It is a rather amazing occurrence given the spring we have had, but it does illustrate the advancements which have been made in recent years.



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