Monthly Archives: May 2014

Agronomy Geeks Ontario — Ep. 9: When to Switch To Lower CHU Hybrids

Seedling corn As May ticks away, farmers in Ontario continue to wrestle with difficult planting conditions.

In this episode of the Agronomy Geeks Ontario podcast, Bernard Tobin and Syngenta agronomic sales manager Shawn Brenneman discuss the pace of #plant14 and the decisions farmers are facing.

As of May 21, Brenneman estimates that 40 to 50 percent of the province’s corn crop is in the ground. Farmers in eastern Ontario have managed to miss some of the rains and are in pretty good shape, as are farmers on lighter ground in areas such as Brant and Norfolk County where 75 to 80 percent of the crop has been planted. Growers in the far southwest Kent and Essex County and those on heavier loams and clays continue to struggle. In some of these areas, planting has yet to start and Brenneman pegs planting progress at about 20 percent.


The big question for farmers now is whether to move to shorter season hybrids. “We’ve seen the advantages of going to longer maturity corn and earlier planting,” says Brenneman. “Growers are  typically growing hybrids 200 to 300 CHU longer than they would five years ago.”

But as planting pushes past May 20, farmers should be planting hybrids with CHU ratings that are recommended for their area. And if you’re still planting corn at the end of May, Brenneman recommends planting “about 100 CHU less than what you would typically grow as a regularly adapted hybrid for your area.”

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TechTour: Zimmatic’s Fieldnet With Variable Rate Irrigation

Every year, North American farmers adopt more technology, enabling precision, efficiency and, in some cases, more holiday time. Even those with intensive management systems can control and monitor some of the operation from a distance. This is certainly becoming the case with irrigation systems, with a few apps and precision technologies now competing on the marketplace.

Zimmatic by Lindsay, for example, offers a web-based pivot control system called Fieldnet that allows users to monitor and adjust pivots from afar via their smart device or computer. Zimmatic also offers precision variable rate irrigation (VRI) where a VRI controller reads a plan specific to the field in question and sends a message to wireless nodes along the pivot. The nodes then control whether any given sprinkler — controlled by a magnetic latching solenoid valve — should turn on, turn off or pulsate.

In this episode of the TechTour, Shaun Haney speaks to Colin Friesen of Zimmatic for a better understanding of these technologies.

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Soybean School West: Can You Influence Pod Height?

In a perfect world, the soybean plant would pop up out of the ground, grow some leaves and then really stretch a bit before setting where that first pod will form.

The reality for many western Canadian farmers, however, is that even in a decent year, our Prairie springs are quite cool — first pod height is partially controlled by genetics but is largely controlled by early growing conditions. Cool conditions are conducive to slow and low growth, which isn’t exactly ideal for first-pod set.

In this audio version of the Soybean School West, Dennis Lange, farm production advisor with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, explains the factors that influence pod height and the few aspects of soybean production that are within your control as a farmers. Most importantly, managing for pod height is more about planning ahead for harvest — a little legwork now may mean conserving  two bushels an acre (or more, depending on conditions) come harvest.

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Want more soybean production information? Click here for the Soybean School West library!

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Are You Too Sedentary? A Look at On-Farm Fitness

There seems to be a stigma around exercise in many rural communities: if you’re working hard, you won’t need to run (making those who do actually appear lazy). Perhaps it’s a belief stemming from our ancestry. Farmers worked the land on the end of a rough plough, threshed and stooked with little help from machines and were seen as incredibly fit. Most farmers still work incredibly hard today, but typically from a slightly more reclined, air conditioned position.

The Public Health Agency of Canada recommends 2.5 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity per week for adults between 18 and 64. Moderate-intensity physical activity, like a fast-paced walk or cycling, increases your heart rate and makes breathing more difficult. You should be able to talk, but not sing. Conversely, vigorous-intensity physical activity like running will make it difficult to speak more than a few words without needing to catch your breath.

Think about the last few days on the farm. Were you ever out of breath? Was it from sustained physical activity or from pulling a few wrenches?

It’s not easy to make the time to devote to exercise  — especially on the farm — but it’s more than worth it. Besides improving your physical health, staying active also improves mental health. There’s the immediate “runner’s high” made possible by endorphins (neurotransmitters that reduce pain perception), and the added long-term benefits of more energy, greater productivity and improved self-confidence, all of which lead to improved mental health.

Too windy to spray? Hay too tough to bale? Grab your runners or bike and give yourself some quality time with the earth. Challenge yourself. Set a goal. Sign up for a fun run, fundraiser or racing event and make it a family endeavor. You never know, you may just like the happier, fitter you.


An interview with Terry Betcher, farmer and exercise fiend:

  1. When did you start taking exercise seriously? Why?
    I’ve been into sports and athletics my whole life so I’ve always thought I took exercise fairly seriously. I realize now after what I’ve done lately that I really haven’t taken exercise seriously until the last couple of years. I played a lot of hockey earlier in life which included lots of practice time, I ran a few marathons in my 30s, but I never put the effort into either one of those activities as I have into triathlon now. Some people would call it an addiction. I prefer to think of it as a way of life. Why do I do it?  Because I can is the short answer. I really enjoy

    Betcher at the Riding Mountain Triathlon. Clear Lake, Manitoba

    Betcher at the Riding Mountain Triathlon.
    Clear Lake, Manitoba

    it. The sense of accomplishment it gives can’t be duplicated elsewhere. The time running or biking gives me a lot of thinking time to solve life’s dilemmas. Another reason is that in 2007 I was diagnosed with a bicuspid aortic valve that would have to be replaced at some point. I had no idea I had this ’til then. I had open heart surgery in June 2010. While on my stay in the cardiac ward for the surgery I saw the other men who also had open heart surgery. Most of them were because of clogged arteries, not a defect. They were in terrible physical condition, many needing two nurses to help them get out of bed. I made a promise that I would do as much as I could to keep my body in as good of condition as I could. Since that day my amount of exercise I do has increased continually.  I am far more serious about physical activity and nutrition now than I ever have been.

  2. What was the latest race you took part in? How did it go?
    The last race I was in was a half Ironman triathlon in Galveston, Texas. This is a 1.2 mile swim, then a 56 mile bike, then a 13.1 mile run. Swimming is my weak link. We had no indoor pool within 100 miles of us so really had no training. The morning of the triathlon the weather was quite windy and the water was really rough. A lot of people didn’t make it through the swim. I didn’t think I would either but a little bit of farmer perseverance carried me through. When I got out of the water I knew I would be fine. 2 flat tires slowed up my bike split and taught me some more patience. The run was humid but went really well. I had followed a training plan that had me prepared for the distance and so I was comfortable in completing it. Like farming, you learn from every experience and hope to get better for the next time.
  3. Has it been difficult to maintain a consistent regime while farming? Particularly in busy seasons?
    Yes it is difficult to maintain a fitness routine being a farmer. There are times in the year (fall especially) that every waking hour is needed to get the job done. I have to work hard to sneak in a workout here and there. My training falls off significantly through harvest, but there is always some time to get some exercise in.
  4. What benefits have you seen as a result of your training and why should others be inclined to start?
    The benefits from training are many. We all know we should exercise more but often don’t want to or don’t think we have the time. Our ancestors worked much harder physically than we do. Exercise was part of survival. Our bodies need to exercise to be efficient. So the health benefits are obvious. Another benefit is the stress reliever. I mentioned this is my thinking time. I also use the time to listen to a lot of ag podcasts. I hope my kids will desire to be active in their life as well. The benefits are endless.
  5. Has it helped your productivity on the farm?
    Farming and training have helped each other out. Combining late at night or running a marathon both take physical and mental strength. I’ve applied the training to mentally continue that long run or ride and used it to be able to work long hours when shutting done would be so easy. Perseverance is a quality that can be trained and improved upon.
  6. What advice would you give people (particularly farmers) who are thinking about starting an exercise program?
    Anyone thinking about starting an exercise program should just start. Start slowly and take baby steps. There are great online programs out there — like “Couch to 5K” — to guide you through the process. Sign up for a local event. If you aren’t quite there yet, go out and volunteer — the enthusiasm is addicting.
    Try and turn it into a way of life and not a chore that you must do. Get together with a friend for walks or runs. I try to see as many sunrises as I can; life is to short to be lying in bed. Get out and enjoy nature. You don’t need a gym membership to get physically active.
  7. How do you measure success in fitness? How should others? Success is measured by your enjoyment, your health, and your attitude. Physical activity has improved my health, given me great enjoyment and boosts my attitude, not to mention my increased work ability by being in better physical condition. Everyone needs to find what works for them; everyone is different. Try a walk or run a few times a week and watch the difference in your life.
    Careful though, it can be addicting.

An interview with Lyndsey Smith, journalist, once-a-runner-now-trying-again-to-be-a-runner and Crossfit beginner:

  1. What physical/mental benefits do you gain from working out?
    More focus and patience for the tasks at hand. Especially if I’m tired! A workout usually works far better than a coffee to perk me up (but I still love coffee with all my heart)
  2. What’s your favourite workout?
    I’ve been going to Crossfit for a year — I love the Bear Complex, or anything with sled pulls or tire flipping (it makes me feel very mighty. It’s great for the confidence)
  3. How do you combat time constraints?
    I’d love to say I have it figured out, but it’s always a struggle to get workouts in, especially in the busy conference season. Lunch hour workouts seem to work best.
  4. Why should people make physical activity a priority?
    We take our health and our mobility for granted. Staying mobile and fit now will pay dividends in the long-term. Plus, no one likes being stiff and sore on a daily basis. Take breaks, learn some good stretches, get your heart rate up. It’s good.
  5. How does someone who’s relatively inactive start exercising?
    Can you walk? Good. Start there. Just walk — walk more, walk instead of drive, walk faster. Start with a five minute circuit of squats, push ups, lunges jumping jacks and sit ups. Build on that.
  6.  What are your tips for newbie runners/cross-fitters?
    For runners — start with 1 and 1 – run one minute, walk one minute (and I mean a shuffle, not a sprint). Start at twice to three times a week. Add a minute or so per week of the run part and you’ll be at 10 and 1 in no time. Join a running group. Sign up for a 5 km, if you need the motivation. As for Crossfit — the fundamentals class seems like a cash grab at first, but I assure you it isn’t. Learning to do the lifts and other movements correctly is so key to making Crossfit work. And, heck, if you can’t get to a gym, or you hate running, it’s super easy to build a circuit at home. Try this: Run for 2 minutes do 40 squats, 30 sit ups, 20 pushups, 10 tricep dips…as fast as you can. Not enough of a challenge? Do it three times.

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Ruminating with RealAg — Ep 4: Residual Feed Intake, Genomics & Sire Selection

The role of genomics in the cattle industry continues to expand, as the price for genetic tests become more affordable for a wider demographic of producers. Parentage testing is only the tip of the iceberg available to interested parties, with understanding of expected progeny differences (EPD) and estimated breeding values (EBV) increasing and playing an impressive role in sire selection.

Inspired partly by attending a BeefBooster bull selection day, I recently headed to the Lacombe Research Centre. There, I spoke with John Basarab, a research scientist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. Basarab has extensive knowledge in genomics and is working on some very interesting efficiency studies as the beef industry continues its quest to define sustainability.

In this podcast, Basarab and I discuss sire selection, how efficient cows are defined and identified and where research is moving next.

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Photo Ops & Farm Safety — Big Issue or Out of Touch?

Lyndon TractorLet’s all take a moment to confess our less-than-safe bad habits — sending a quick text while driving, donning only the minimum of safety gear while mixing chemical or giving the wee ones a ride on the tractor or quad, even if there isn’t a seat for them.

Are all of these excusable because, hey, we need to get things done, right?

As adults, we know the risks, both to our health and our safety (and possibly driving record) and so must deal with the consequences ourselves, but children love tractor rides, adorable (and large) farm animals and zippy machines that go zoom. What’s the harm in including them in the daily life of the farm?

What brought on this discussion? The Ontario provincial campaign trail got only a little ridiculous yesterday when current premier and agriculture minister Kathleen Wynne drove a tractor as a photo op — with a farmer along for the ride on the open-air model, propped up on the step to help Wynne navigate. Is this OK or a bad example?

The Ontario PC party called Wynne out on it, saying she was exhibiting poor tractor driving safety. Many on twitter and through comments figuratively rolled their eyes at the remarks, saying that this is reality on the farm and to get over it.



The remarks got me thinking about farm safety. The campaign trail aside (was it poor judgement? Likely. But how do you learn to drive a tractor if no one shows you how?), I reached out to some very busy farming mamas I know to ask them how they handle the reality of farming with the reality of the risks of farming.

The common theme between all of the women I interviewed was that there was, in fact, clear communication of the rules — designated areas of play, pens that were a no-go no matter what, and even the rule of wearing bright colours in the farm yard for added visibility. I asked about tractor rides — heck, I love a good tractor ride — and the consensus was cabbed tractors were OK (even if there were one or two more than the buddy seat could handle), but open-air cabs were a no-go. ATVs and the like were a gray area. Helmets yes, but extra riders were common for rides.

What do you do on your farm? What rules are hard and fast and which ones get bent in order to get a job done?

For more on farm safety, including great resources, click here for the Canadian Ag Safety Association’s website.

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Canola School: The Seedling Blight Complex & Minimum Plant Stand Numbers

Seedlings from a foot of row seeded at 3 mph.

Seedlings pulled from a foot of row showing consistent seed-placement depth

Have you walked your canola fields shortly after emergence only to find several seedlings struggling and dying off or found seeds rotting in the furrow? Even treated seed can’t fully overcome the pressure of the seedling disease complex endemic to all of Western Canada’s canola growing region, especially if canola is seeded too deep or under wet and cool conditions.

Rhizoctonia, pythium and fusarium spp. all attack canola seedlings, and the symptoms are all similar enough that you’re not likely to be able to tell which is causing the most damage in your fields. The more important thing, explains Gregory Sekulic, agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada, is to know under what conditions seedling blights are to occur and to best manage for the threat via best establishment practices for the crop.

In this episode of the Canola School, Sekulic and Real Agriculture field editor Debra Murphy discuss symptoms of the seedling blight complex, risk factors and the minimum number of canola plants per acre necessary to achieve a decent yield.

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