Above average barley production on the books
It is not perfect across the province, but many Alberta farmers reported decent-to-exceptional looking barley crops this year.
Moisture was good, although excessive in some areas. Some growers said their crops were on time or early, while others reported delayed maturity due to late seeding or cooler growing conditions. In parts of central and southern Alberta, warm temperatures since mid-August brought the crop on fast. Of course, there were also reports of some crops that looked pretty good, but that was before the hail.
Overall, it appears to be a solid crop— near the five-year production average of 8.97 million tonnes—with Canadian bar- ley producers expected to bin about 8.8 million tonnes, compared to 8 million in 2012, 7.9 million in 2011 and 7.6 million in 2010. However, the big question on everyone’s mind as we headed into the fall was: could we get it harvested with decent quality?
How did the 2013 growing season unfold on individual farms? Here’s what a sampling of farmers, interviewed in mid- to late-August, had to say about conditions on their farms:
Brad Berger – Nanton
Despite some hail, Brad Berger said he is probably looking at one of the best crops in his farming career.
Berger, who produces grains, oilseeds and pulses on his farm at Nanton, south of Calgary, had just started swathing when interviewed for Barley Country.
He said with a drier spring, for the first time in about 20 years they got everything seeded.
“We’ve had exceptional moisture and heat over the growing season,” he said. “Big heads, big yield, lots of straw—this could be the best crop we’ve ever had.”
Berger seeded about 1,100 acres of feed barley this year on time. The good- looking crop did sustain some hail dam- age in early July, but even those areas were recovering. “The barley never did look too bad,” he said. “Our peas and canola had the worst of it.”
While heavy rainfall in mid-June made national headlines for the devastating flood it caused in Calgary and other communities just north of him, Berger received less than one inch of rain on his land.
With a heavy crop and plenty of moisture, he sprayed his barley to control net blotch and the fungicide was effective.
“I have done some travelling this summer and parts of the U.S. were looking pretty dry, but for the most part crops in southern Alberta, north of the border, are looking pretty good,” he said. “Our crop appears to be on time, so we’re hoping to get it combined before frost is an issue.”
David Eaton- Oyen
In the traditionally dry area of east-central Alberta, David Eaton runs a mixed farming operation at Oyen that’s faced an unusual growing season.
“We’re usually dry here, and we haven’t seen this cycle of moisture since the 1950s,” he said.
“The 2013 season started out with good moisture, but now, in the last part of August, it is hot and dry,” said Eaton. “It has really helped the crops to mature.”
Some of Eaton’s neighbours had started combining peas in late August while he was about to begin swathing.
According to Eaton, the Oyen area had lots of snow this past winter, a late spring and reasonable moisture during the growing season, despite cooler temperatures. Some of his neighbours’ early-seeded crops showed signs of moisture stress, but rain in early August eased the situation.
“The crop is looking excellent and is probably above average,” said Eaton, noting he didn’t get all his wheat, peas, barley and canola seeded this spring. He seeded about 800 acres of feed barley last, but it matured quickly. He also has another 500 acres of an oats-and-barley mix he’ll cut for greenfeed for cattle.
There had been a bit of hail earlier in the season, but nothing serious. He noted last year his crop was fine until a devastating hailstorm hit in early Sep- tember. He’s hoping there is no repeat of that.
David Korpan – Vegreville
With favourable growing conditions, David Korpan said his barley crop was looking “very good.” He was expecting an early harvest, but August was cool and wet in his area, which caused slowed ripening. Although some farmers were desiccating crops in late August, Korpan said he prefers to wait for a frost to help the standing crop to dry down barley before straight combining.
“It was an unusual year—we seemed to go directly from winter into summer,” said Korpan, who produced about 700 acres of feed barley this year. “There was still snow on the ground on May 5 and three days later people were seeding.”
Korpan said it was a fairly wet July. With some signs of smut in the barley crop, he sprayed about half of it with a fungicide, primarily to do a side-by-side comparison of treated versus untreated.
“The crop pulled through those wet conditions quite well,” he said. “If we get some warm days, we should be combining by early September.”
Aside from producing the crop, he said his greatest concern was what the price would be come fall. He was also frustrated by deductions that get applied after good quality grain leaves the farm.
“If there is a legitimate problem that’s one thing, but sometimes it seems unreasonable and what can you do once the truck is at the feed yard?” he said. “It just seems like too often the farmer is getting shafted.”
Peter Smerychynski- Westlock
It was a wet year in the Westlock area northwest of Edmonton and, to add insult to injury, Peter Smerychynski said most of the crop that did pull through was nearly wiped out by hail.
We’ve had a couple hail storms that “The 2013 season started out with good hit this area hard,” said Smerychynski, who this year has about 500 acres of both malting and feed barley varieties. “The last hail storm probably covered an area 10 miles wide and 50 miles long … it was not an isolated event.”
Smerychynski said Westlock is generally a pretty good growing area, with him targeting 120-bushel barley yields. However, excess moisture changed that.
“We’ve lost between 80 and 100 per cent of our yield,” he said. “[Now] we’re looking at perhaps a 30-bushel-per-acre crop.”
Smerychynski said it was wet at seeding and they’ve had about 17 inches of rain over the growing season.
“Barley is a crop that doesn’t like wet feet,” he said.
The moisture held the crop back, but it was coming along. He applied proper fertility and even sprayed for disease control.
“It was looking somewhat promising and then [another] hail storm came along and pretty well took everything.”
He said he would have to combine what was left in the field, but with a cool, late season it may be a challenge to get the combining done.
Ron Heck- Fairview
With reasonable moisture, but cooler conditions, crops in the central Peace River region appeared seven to 10 days behind, said Ron Heck, a longtime barley grower near Fairview.
Due to rotation, Heck doesn’t have any barley seeded this year, but usually he produces malting barley varieties on the grain and oilseed farm. He expects it will be back in rotation next year.
“Crops are generally looking pretty good, and are perhaps above average,” said Heck. “We had very dry conditions in 2010 and 2011. Last year was about average and this year conditions are above average. We had rain in May, which delayed seeding. We were still seeding in early June.”
While it was a decent growing season, days grow shorter and temperatures cool off. He said the next concern is to have a pleasant harvest.
“We need another fall like we had last year,” he said. “Usually, we are starting to combine in late August and this year it will be early September. Last year, we had three solid weeks of great weather and everyone got the crop done.”
Some farmers in the region in late August were starting to swath canola.
Heck’s guide was that if they were frost free past the full moon (Aug. 20 this year) they’d be OK—and they were.
“I’ll never forget the frost we had in 1991,” he said. “It was August 17 and it was so cool I was wearing insulated coveralls. We had two nights of killing frost and just about every crop in the province went from a number one to a number three. We don’t need that.”