Monthly Archives: April 2014

What’s Your Commitment to Management Change?

By Terry Betker

This is a fantastic time to be entering (or be in) the business world, because business is going to change more in the next 10 years than the last 50.

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next 10. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.

— Bill Gates

The quotes above, attributed to Bill Gates, have, I think, a direct application to primary agriculture. We all know that change in farming is hardly anything new.

There is a business axiom that states that a business – including a farm – will typically outgrow its management. Growth I mean here is in the literal sense of more acres or animals, but also in the business’s complexity. It’s rare that as a farm business evolves there aren’t more people and more people involved in ownership and management, generational transition, and the diversity of the business enterprise mix. Managerial development, and change, is required.

Even if your farm has been relatively stable, the requirement to advance business management applies to maintain the status quo. Failing to do so runs the risk of slippage, in relative terms, as compared to other farms in similar situations.

Over the years, I’ve come to respect that there are some things that, from a farm management perspective, are really challenging for farmers to do. I talk to farmers who have identified the need to make changes in how their farms are being managed. They will have come up with ideas on what the changes might look like and will often express their frustration in the difficulty in their implementation.

There are a few reasons why I think this happens. One is procrastination. There generally isn’t any real urgency – as in ‘this needs to be done this week’ – to the adjustments. But, pretty soon a month or two slips by with no action and soon a new production season is looming. This is the second reason. The production season for farmers is critical, justifiably filled with urgency and stress. In these situations, human nature causes people to revert to what’s worked in the past. When the production season ends, it’s back to the drawing board when it comes to making adjustments to those management plans. So if you’ve committed implementing some changes in management, what do you need to do this summer – during the busy season – to ensure that you don’t lose focus?

There needs to be a plan, and this is the third reason management changes take time. The lack of a plan is a significant stumbling block to change. How simple or complex the plan is becomes a factor. You can apply the SMART principle in determining the appropriateness of a plan that’s designed to effect some changes in how the business is being managed. ‘S’ stands for Specific. We are going to have monthly management meetings for example. ‘M’ stands for Measurable. You can measure if the monthly meetings are happening. ‘A’ stands for Attainable. Having monthly management meetings is attainable. ‘R’ is for Realistic. Is it realistic to have monthly management meetings? Perhaps not in May or September and if so, then adjust the Specific function to monthly meetings except for May and September. ‘T’ relates to the Time factor. We are going to start having monthly meetings next month.

The last reason I’m going to discuss is related to the ownership and management structure of the farm business. Management and ownership are almost always one and the same. So, if the person who is responsible for making the changes in management isn’t getting the job done, who do they report to? Themselves? The lack of accountability can be a major issue and at the same time, one of the easiest to remedy. Accountability to a third party can be a very effective way to maintain focus during the busy season as well.

If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading — Lao Tzu

First, a plan is needed. Given that a plan exists, if you can make accountability work internally, within the ownership and management group, that’s likely the preferred scenario. However, this isn’t a realistic option for most farm families. External accountability can be really effective. Engage someone who you trust and feel comfortable in talking to, in some detail, about your business. The accountability factor lies in your commitment to do what you said you were going to do, when you said you would do it. And if you haven’t got it done, having to explain to the person why not and what you’re going to do about it. Change is unavoidable. How you deal with it is what’s important.

Terry Betker is a farm management consultant, with Backswath Management Inc. He can be reached at 204.782.8200 or Click here for more of his columns on farm management.

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Doing the Math on TKW of Canola: Should Farmers Pay by Seeds Per Bag?

Big seed results in only slightly better germ rates — not enough to balance the pounds/acre seed number spread.

Big seed results in only slightly better germ rates — not enough to balance the pounds/acre seed number spread.

A couple weeks ago there was a good discussion on Twitter discussing the varying thousand kernel weights (TKW) of canola coming from suppliers this season. I hear this discussion pop up every spring, it seems like, and no wonder. Average TKWs on seed fluctuate from year to year, yes, but there’s been a trend to larger canola seed in recent years. Bigger seed offers a slight germination advantage, but that bump is slight.

Because farmers are charged by the pound for canola seed, the heavier or bigger the seed, the higher the TKW, and the fewer seeds per pound. It means, for the same pound of seed you’re paying the same for fewer potential plants. This can be an issue for a few reasons: one, it’s potentially costing you more to plant that bigger seed on a per acre basis; and, two, it could also inadvertently hinder your plant stand counts, which, in turn could have an effect on yield, maturity, disease management and more.

Let’s look at two different seed sizes, as examples, so we can illustrate how big of a difference there is between TKW:

4.0 g TKW = 113,500 seeds per pound

6.5 g TKW = 69,846 seeds per pound

If we assume a seeding rate of 5 lb/ac (typical for many) here are the differences:

113,500 x 5 lb = 567,500 seeds planted on one acre

69,846 x 5 lb = 349,230 seeds planted on one acre

567,500 seeds per acre divided by 43,560 (square feet in an acre) = 13 seeds/ft2

349,230 seeds per acre divided by 43,560 = 8 seeds/ft2

That’s five seeds difference in every square foot of field — and brings a great target plant stand down to a marginal one, all because of TKW and nothing more.

Now we haven’t taken into account seedling mortality which can vary from 30% to 60% (or more), but you can see the old standby of 5 lb/acre isn’t necessarily the way to go in every situation. These numbers show first and foremost that there needs to be the TKW taken into account when determining a seeding rate as it can have a big impact on your final plant stand. The difference of five seeds per square foot could be anywhere from two to five plants, more or less, in any area of the field which means you could have a less than ideal plant stand through no fault of your own (except for not re-calculating your seeding rate).

Strategies for saving on seed costs: A Canola School with Murray Hartman

If we look at the big seed (6.5 TKW)we can see that there is only eight seeds/ft2, assuming a 50% mortality that means you may end up with only four plants/ft2 which is not in the ideal range of seven to 14 plants that the Canola Council has established. This is right in the range where the Canola Council starts to see a decrease in yield due to a lack of plants.

My question for everyone is whether or not farmers and industry should be looking for a better way of doing things. Should companies be selling based on seeds per bag like in corn or soybeans? Should growers be sent their TKW numbers earlier so they can better determine their exact amount of bags needed? It’s not necessarily economic to up seeding costs by a third for the same number of plants. Is there a better strategy?

This column is brought to you by:

GMAC 300-250

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More Cases of PEDV Confirmed in Manitoba; None at Farms

The Office of the Chief Veterinary Officer (CVO) of Manitoba has confirmed a small number of animals being held at a high-traffic site have tested positive for porcine epidemic diarrhea (PED) virus. The pigs were at a facility on the eastern side of the province; the infection is not being linked to a specific farm.

The pigs were transported from another high-traffic site before showing clinical signs.  Based on the CVO’s preliminary investigation, it is believed the source of the infection was due to environmental contamination at the high-traffic sites and not from the source farms.

This week, there were three new reports of PED at high-traffic or environmental sites and no new reports of suspected PED cases on Manitoba pig farms.

To date, one pig farm has had cases test positive for PED. The total number of high-traffic or environmental sites testing positive for PED is seven.

Several high-traffic sites had not conducted testing before but started because of contact with other positive high-traffic sites or PED positive regions outside of Manitoba.  These sites are implementing control and containment plans to prevent PED from moving from their sites to Manitoba farms.

Facilities moving or handling large numbers of pigs are considered high-traffic sites and include livestock assembly yards, federal and provincial abattoirs, truck-wash stations and livestock trailers.

Manitobans are reminded PED is not a food safety issue and it does not affect humans.  However, it can be a severe and often fatal illness in newborn and young pigs.  Older animals often have less serious symptoms and generally recover.

PED is a reportable disease in Manitoba.  Producers are encouraged to remain vigilant with the necessary biosecurity protocols that prevent the spread of PED and are reminded they must report all suspected cases to their veterinarian.

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Planting Begins and, With It, Volatility: The Markets This Week

If you cannot see the embedded player, click here.

Late April has some farmers in Western Canada dusting off the seeding equipment, and there have even been reports of elusive railcars sighted at elevators. This is the backdrop to which grains continue to trade off of weather and the geopolitical situation in Eastern Europe.

Concerns China will default on even more South American soybeans is moving the oilseed market, prompting at least a few shipments to get re-routed to the U.S. For corn, U.S. exporters last week shipped out the most volume they have in the last 24 years as other main suppliers Brazil and Ukraine deal with port congestion & increased cost of doing business. Finally, wheat continues to see premiums built into the market due to poor U.S. winter wheat crop conditions and, again, the situation in Ukraine.

Speaking of Eastern Europe, CWB director of market research Neil Townsend says that after doing a four-day tour of Ukraine, the crops are looking good and that yields could actually be better than last year. While overall acres in Ukraine are likely down a little bit (especially for corn), agronomy-wise, it’s a good season. Conversely, politically and economics-wise, it’s not a good season, and so while grain will continue to get sown, grown, & harvested, its ability to get into the world pipeline will add uncertainty to the market (AKA volatility as premiums get built up and sold off erratically).

On April 24th, Statistics Canada released its acreage estimates for plant ’14 and according to the survey of 11,500 Canadian farmers, we will see more pulse crops get planted but less canola and other coarse grains. Total wheat acres for this year are seen at 24.77 million (-4.8 per cent year-over-year) while canola acres are seen dropping slightly from last year to 19.8 million. Corn and barley acres are also seen dropping to 3.67 million (-8.6 per cent) and 6.3 million (-11 per cent) respectively.

These acreage declines will go to pulse crops and non-canola oilseeds. Specifically, pea acres are seen growing 21 per cent to almost four million and lentils acres are expected to increase by 19.5 per cent to 2.86 million. Soybean acres are seen rising 16.5 per cent to 5.26 million, most significantly in Ontario & Manitoba with 1.3 million and 2.8 million acres respectively). Flax acres are expected to steal the show with a 66 per cent increase over last year’s share to 1.72 million acres. Ultimately, this survey was taken over a month ago and while I expect non-canola oilseed and pulse acres to stay close to StatsCan’s initial estimates, it’s likely we’ll see a change in canola and wheat numbers by the end of the seeding season.

Finally, a lot of the market is watching the planting pace of U.S. crops and any weather events that can slow the seeding speed down is usually considered bullish. However, we’re not even yet into the heart of the ideal planting window so any concern should be generally considered premature.

Staying in weather, agencies around the world are increasing their estimates of an El Nino event occurring this year, with the Australian Bureau of Meteorology being the most bullish, saying the extreme weather pattern may develop by July. The regions most affected are in Southeast Asia & Australia as the drier conditions can adversely affect crop production. Of significance for India is oilseed and lentils production potentially falling. Further, palm oil production in Malaysia would likely decline, creating opportunities for other vegetable oil substitutes like canola oil. Keep in mind that while lower global production premiums can get built into the market over time, it only takes a bearish report or two from the likes of the USDA. or a new peace agreement in Eastern Europe to erase those gains rather quickly.

To growth!

The post Planting Begins and, With It, Volatility: The Markets This Week appeared first on Real Agriculture.

Corn School West: The Risks of Cold Soil & Waiting ‘Til Soil is “Fit”

CORN SCHOOL w BKGRND“You shouldn’t plant until your soil is fit.”

It’s a great quote, but what does “fit” soil look like? Well, it’s not just what it looks like, soil fit for planting corn also needs to be warm, though we use the term loosely here in Western Canada. The fact is, regardless of how dry or well prepared the seed bed may be, corn will only germinate around 8 degrees C to 10 degrees C. Planting prior to soil temperature reaching those (lowly) heights puts extra stress on the crop.

Related: Corn School: Tight Planting Window? Plant ASAP, Fertilize Later

In this Corn School video, Dieter Schwarz of Pride Seeds, takes us out to worked ground near Altona, Manitoba, to look at what soil temps are doing in late April. Schawarz explains when below ground growth begins, when above ground growth really gets going (it’s much warmer than 10 degrees C, I’m afraid) and why the weather forecast can play a monumental role in corn crop establishment.

(For the curious: Schwarz also gets a bead on how far down the frost still is as of April 24, following this year’s record cold winter. Hint: it’s not far).

If you cannot view the embedded video, click here.

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The new issue of our newsletter, the Agribition Insider, is now published! View…

The new issue of our newsletter, the Agribition Insider, is now published! View it below or visit our website. You can also sign up to be on the list to receive the newsletter by email – just visit our website, and enter your email address at the top where it says Newsletter. Enjoy!

Agribition Insider – Summer 2014

“Trying to break some of the misconceptions by simply giving a consumer factual…

“Trying to break some of the misconceptions by simply giving a consumer factual information directly from the farm is something I now really enjoy.” – Kendra Leslie, animal lover turned farmer. Read more about Kendra’s passion for working as a full-time caretaker of a sow herd for an Ontario pig farmer.

An Animal Lover Turned Farmer – Kendra Leslie – Let’s Talk Farm Animals
An Animal Lover Turned Farmer – Kendra Leslie – Let’s Talk Farm Animals .

Agronomy Geeks West — Ep.13: All You Didn’t Want to Know about Resistance Breakdown

Evidence of blackleg infection

Evidence of blackleg infection

If seeding early is the Robertson screw driver of the disease management tool box, genetic resistance is the giant sledge hammer — effective, reliable, easy to use. But unlike actual tools that do the same job over and over again, genetic resistance — that is, resistance to a disease or pest that’s built in to the plant’s own genes — is far more complex.

Earlier this week, the Canola Council of Canada alerted farmers that existing genetic resistance to clubroot was already showing signs of losing its effectiveness. Yes, already. The increasing incidence of blackleg, and the confirmation in recent years of new races of the disease are also of a concern. To shift the focus to cereals, resistance to certain strains of rust have already come and gone.

READ MORE: How are you managing resistant genes? A cautionary tale of the wheat midge trait

What’s happening here? Are these varieties just no good anymore? First, let’s clarify something — the clubroot resistant varieties we have and that are being grown are solid lines. There’s nothing wrong with these varieties, in fact, the seed companies should be acknowledged for how quickly they brought the trait to market. What we’re seeing now is an intersect between the type of resistance the varieties’ have (whether it is single vs. multi-gene), the disease pressure and the selection pressure, i.e. how many times in a row canola, and the same variety of canola, has been grown on the same field.

In short, genetic resistance is, yes,  the gold standard in disease management, but agronomists and farmers must strive to fully understand how it works and, more importantly, that any and all resistance requires management. This is not simply a clubroot issue. This is not only a blackleg issue. It relates to all diseases, crop types and management systems.

For this edition of the Agronomy Geeks podcast, I spoke with Randy Kutcher, associate professor with the Crop Development Centre at the University of Saskatchewan. In this interview, we cover what erosion and breakdown of resistance means, if all pathogens are susceptible to resistance and, most importantly, the tools farmers and agronomists have on hand to maintain the longevity of these all-important disease management tools.

If you cannot see the embedded player, click here.

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Join the RealAgriculture Team at the Advancing Women Leadership in Agriculture Conference

logoOn Monday, April 28th, 2014, over 200 people will attend a leadership conference like none other. Hosted in Calgary, the Advancing Women — Leadership in Agriculture conference begins Monday evening ahead of a full-day of sessions focused on setting goals, professional growth and the challenges still ahead for women in agriculture.


The RealAgriculture editorial team of Lyndsey Smith, Debra Murphy and Shaun Haney will be on-hand covering the conference through audio, video and written features, to help capture the highlights and take-home messages of the conference. Of course, being there is always the best option — if you plan to attend, please stop us and say hello!

Keep watch on this space for more coverage!

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