“Aren’t they supposed to be green?”

Corn in the field that is ready for harvest

Fall is an incredibly busy time for farmers. Many will harvest hundreds of acres of soybeans and corn in the fall months. As of today, soybean harvest is well on its way in parts of southern and southwestern Ontario, while the corn is busy soaking in the last of the summer heat. Earlier this month, farmers were busy preparing for harvest: washing and maintaining their combines and tractors and anxiously watching their crops. Like trees and shrubs do in the fall, soybeans and corn both undergo a dramatic physical transformation at this time of year.

Soybean plants change colour in the fall months: their leaves turn from green to yellow before they eventually fall off once the plant reaches full maturity. Full maturity is the last growth stage in soybeans development – the soybean pods have fully developed seeds, and the plant is beginning to dry down. Corn is similar: the kernels will harden, and the rest of the plant will dry out once it is fully grown (usually in mid-October). Corn also turns brown and yellow.

Soybeans and corn need to be dry in order to be harvested. Once they have reached full maturity, the plants begin to dry down and no longer accept nutrients in preparation for winter. Like all other plants (grass, trees, flowers), soybeans and corn begin to prepare themselves for winter once the temperature begins to drop. Farmers want their grains to be dry for harvest, as that means the seeds are fully grown with all the necessary nutrients inside. This is why we wait for grains to turn yellow or brown before we harvest them.

Spray 101

A John Deere tractor pulling a sprayer in a field of soybeans

Spring planting got off to a really rough start in much of Ontario, but most farmers in the province are (slowly) working towards finishing #plant17.

How late did it really go? Many farmers had to balance spraying the fields they planted on time while still planting others.

First on the agenda for spraying this spring would be spraying the winter wheat planted last fall. Wheat will need to be sprayed if it has strong symptoms of a disease outbreak. Cool and wet conditions are a breeding ground for fungal and bacteria spores. Many farmers are now working hard to spray fungicides onto their wheat crops before fusarium and rust spores damage the crop.

Once the barley, corn, oats, and soybeans have been planted across the province, farmers will diligently monitor the fields as the crops grow. They are checking to see if there are pests that arrive in the fields to cause harm to the growing plants. Baby plants are very susceptible to even the smallest threat of a pest, whether that’s an insect a disease or even competition from neighbouring weeds. Farmers must be diligent during this growing period to monitor the smallest threat and determine if a spray is necessary. They will only spray if there is a large threat that will cause significant damage to the growing crop, as pesticides are expensive and could harm the crop if not applied correctly.

Rain

Field in East Garafraxa full of water

Rain. The word on everyone’s minds lately, but even more so for the farmers who have been unfortunate enough to receive all the rain this year. Farmers across the province struggled to plant their grains this spring, and many were optimistic for the weather to hold off long enough to give the plants a chance to grow. Many were also optimistic enough to spray liquid nitrogen fertilizer and necessary fungicides and herbicides to protect the growing plants. But after inches of rain last week, farmers are now concerned that their crops might not survive.

My family farms in East Garafraxa township, growing corn, soybeans, and wheat. After the heavy rain and storms Thursday night, we checked on the fields to see how bad the floods were. Rivers and creeks were flooding in nearby towns and communities, so we knew there was too much water in our area. Close to 4 inches fell in one night, causing the tiles and ditches to fill and flood into the fields. One field of ours alone had 18 acres under water. That’s equivalent to about 40 hockey arenas of land… under water. And that was on one farm alone. Many neighbours in our area had flooding in the fields and fast moving water carrying the plants and soil away. Today, we were able to check on the fields, and many have begun to dry up. Thankfully, water is no longer pooling on the plants! But we aren’t out of the clear yet. Over the next few weeks, many farmers will be closely monitoring their fields to see if there is any long term damage from the rains, as well as waiting on the fields to dry to begin spraying the necessary pesticides and fertilizers that haven’t been applied this spring.

#beesmatter National Planting Week, June 5-12, 2017

BeesMatter National Planting Week logo

This year, Bees Matter has designated June 5-12 as National Planting Week. Bees Matter is a program created to bring farmers and beekeepers together with a common goal to keep the Canadian honeybee thriving.

While Statistics Canada has shown that the number of honeybee hives in Canada is on the rise, bees still face significant challenges, including lack of adequate food in the early spring months. This is why Bees Matter has started the #BuzzingGarden campaign. Order a free seed kit now at Beesmatter.ca
to do your part for Canadian honeybees!

BeesMatter Buzzing Gardens seed kits

April Showers Bring More Showers

Mike's wet fields in May 2017

Farmers across the province have spent the last few weeks anxiously waiting to get on the fields to begin spring planting. A lucky few were able to get onto the fields early, and they have already planted fields of corn, barley, and oats.

        The longer it takes for farmers to get back on the dry fields and plant their crops, the shorter the growing season gets. With less time to grow and develop, the crops will yield less grain at harvest time.

Before farmers can start planting, the soil needs to be warm (12°C or higher) and dry. Ideally, this happens between the end of April and the middle of May. This year, because of extremely wet weather, a lot of farmers have had to put an early stop to their #plant17 plans. After 70mm already, this weekend could bring another 75-100mm of rain across Southern Ontario, and many long term forecasts are calling for more rain next week.

What does all of this mean for farmers? Most will have to sit and wait. It’s very easy to over-compact wet soil by driving equipment on it, and wet soil is also at a much higher risk for soil-borne diseases and funguses that can kill plants before they even start to grow.

The longer it takes for farmers to get back on the dry fields and plant their crops, the shorter the growing season gets. With less time to grow and develop, the crops will yield less grain at harvest time.

What started off as a beautiful, early spring has changed into a rain soaked mess, and #plant 17 is on hold across the province.
Of course, conditions weren’t much better this time last year.