Variable precipitation continues to be a concern across the province; rainfall in the last week has ranged from nothing to up to three inches. Areas that have received rain are obviously doing better with the rains coming at a critical point in corn pollination and helping to extend the soybean flowering period. In regions where rains have failed to develop or where only small amounts of rain have been received, the crops continue to struggle. In general, areas with both lighter and heavier textured soils seem to be the areas not been receiving the rains. Regardless of the rainfall to date and the soil types under the crop, more rainfall is required.
Second-cut forage harvest is either completed or well underway. We have seen more flowered alfalfa fields this July than in previous years. It appears that some producers may be sacrificing quality to get volume with delayed cutting. It is important to realize that once alfalfa has flowered, the amount of additional growth possible is negligible. To get new growth started that will hopefully take advantage of coming rainfall, it is important to harvest the current small crop, regardless of the volume available.
Winter wheat harvest is close to completion, with the exception of eastern regions. In many parts of southwestern Ontario, yields and quality have been excellent, but lower yields are being reported in central and east regions. Straw yields have been substantial and farmers appear to have more than they can move.
Spring cereal harvest has begun in some areas, driven by dry conditions. Of note is the number of serious grain harvest fires that have been reported in the last few weeks. While the majority of winter wheat harvest has finished, spring cereal harvest under these dry conditions continues to offer the threat of field fires started by equipment. It is extremely important to be vigilant in equipment operation and maintenance to be sure to reduce this threat as much as possible. Take the time to ensure you are reducing the risk. The alternative can be extremely costly in terms of crop and infrastructure losses. Recent fires saw the loss of expensive harvest and firefighting equipment and a high probability of structure losses.
In addition, have a plan in place to deal with fires in the event they occur. See www.fieldcropnews.com for some tips on being proactive to prevent harvest fires and prepared to respond if they start.
Figure 1 and 2: The aftermath of the recent Waterloo Region Grain Harvest Fire and how close it was to spreading to structures. Available as soon as possible on the Field Crop News website at: http://fieldcropnews.com/.
Cover crop and residue Llessons
Planting into a cover crop or into the residue of a cover crop requires an extra level of management. The following are some lessons learned this spring:
• A living cover crop in the spring will continue to draw moisture from the soil until it is dead; this can be beneficial in a wet spring but may cause problems in a dry spring
• A cover crop can take a while to die once it has been controlled – the length of time is species- and weather-dependent
• A layer of residue can help conserve moisture throughout the season on a sandy soil but may keep the soil too wet to plant on a clay loam soil
• Patience is a virtue – fields that were planted before they were fit led to smearing of the seed trench and the slot opening up when the weather turned dry leading to poor and variable stands
• Seed that was planted when soil temperatures were cold resulted in slow emergence and very uneven crops
• Fields that were planted too deep were slow to emerge and resulted in uneven stands
• Planters set up to achieve good seed to soil contact and proper seed trench closure generally had more uniform stands
• Strip tillage improved crop stands and early crop growth
Red clover stands this year are generally poor or are quite variable, although there are good stands in some areas. Below are some options to consider if the red clover stand is less than ideal.
If the red clover crop is insured, then you will have to wait until September 1 when it is released. At that point another cover crop can be planted to achieve some cover crop benefits. If you are likely to have six weeks before a killing frost, have good soil moisture and can plant right away, then oats, radish, buckwheat and peas individually or in a mixture could achieve reasonable growth before a frost. Otherwise a winter cereal is the next best option to achieve growth through the fall and into next spring if desired.
If the red clover crop is not insured, then there is the opportunity now to fill in thin areas with red clover, crimson clover, and one of the other clovers or with another legume such as peas or hairy vetch. If the red clover stand is nonexistent then there are many possibilities. See the Field Crop News Article Cover Crops Following Cereals and Late Summer Harvested Crops http://bit.ly/OMAFRACoverCrops1 for some options.
Many areas of the province have been very dry this season. As a result, second cut hay yields have been below average in many fields. There is an opportunity to grow supplemental forage following a wheat crop and gain the benefits of a cover crop at the same time. Some options include planting oats or barley for harvest this fall. This will provide moderate to high quality forage depending on stage at cutting. Peas can be added to the oats. Another option is Italian ryegrass, which will provide high quality forage that can be cut in the fall and again next spring. Fall rye is another option for harvest next spring.
There are many reasons to grow cover crops: from keeping the soil covered, to nutrient cycling, to improving the soil. There are many options for cover crops but the key is to start simple. Start with a small acreage and with a single species or a couple of species to learn how to manage cover crops. Oats alone or oats and radish can be a good starting point. Some commercial mixes are available if you want to try something with a little more diversity. See the articles on Field Crop News for more information on cover crops and their management.