Production Challenges Abound in 2022 for Alberta Farmers

by | Mar 7, 2022

Whether it’s supply shortages or agronomic challenges like herbicide carryover, farmers are bracing for a challenging season ahead.

For Trent Whiting, SeCan’s marketing rep for Alberta and British Columbia, one word will define 2022 and the production challenges growers will face — supply.

Whether it’s access to seed, fertilizer, or herbicides, Whiting says growers will have to be even more vigilant and proactive in making sure they have what they need to be successful a year after one of the worst droughts in recent memory.

Add to that the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking even more havoc with the supply chain.

“It’s going to be an interesting spring to say the least,” Whiting says. “Overall supply is the big one. That’s something on everyone’s mind right now.”

He’s getting a lot of questions about seed access. The good news is the overall seed supply is not quite as tight as had been feared, but growers won’t be able to count on brand-new genetics being available as readily as they might have. That could spill over into future years, he adds.

Trent Whiting

Trent Whiting, SeCan’s marketing rep for Alberta and British Columbia

“If you’re looking for a really new variety, or one that’s maybe not as big, you know, the overall supply is a concern. That can be from certified seed that would go to a farmer customer right up to stock seed,” he says, adding that a chain reaction may occur which could cause some unexpected issues down the line.

“It ultimately affects breeder seed production and all the rest. It can really put you behind with a brand-new variety. We’ve got a new two row feed barley, and I’m going to get about half the breeder seed I was hoping to get to start the production cycle. That gives you literally half the amount of seed again next year and creates a domino effect.”

Indeed, growers can’t count on product availability like they could in the past. It’s a problem that is being keenly felt by people like Chris Bauer, a grain farmer in Lake Lenore, Sask.

“Supply shortages are going to be an added risk. In the past, we knew we had no control over the weather, but we could usually count on product availability. Now, with shipping delays, and seed availability problems caused by the drought, even that’s not for sure. And even if something is available, the prices are higher,” he says.

“First the pandemic hit and then we got hit by last year’s drought. My yields were 40 per cent what they normally are, and I did better than a lot of people around here. Everyone’s concerned, for sure.”

Chris Bauer

Chris Bauer, a grain farmer in Lake Lenore, Sask.

Even major input suppliers like BASF are having to warn customers about unforeseen effects of the instability caused by the events of 2021.

In September, BASF issued an urgent notice to its grower customers warning of a high degree of risk of injury for sensitive crops in 2022, such as canola, durum wheat and canary seed, due to possible herbicide carryover caused by last year’s drought.

“We all know that certain environmental conditions can delay the breakdown of herbicide residues in soil, but this year is different,” the company says in its notice.

“Our research shows that in seasons where there has not been an adequate amount of rainfall throughout the season to facilitate herbicide breakdown in the soil, injury to more sensitive rotational crops is likely to occur.”

With current environmental records showing rainfall below this threshold for many parts of Western Canada, BASF is making a number of agronomic recommendations in addition to the current rotational crop recommendations on its imidazoline-based herbicide labels.

The recommendations apply to growers who farm in the dark brown, black, grey or grey wooded soil zones who received less than 125 mm of accumulated rainfall between June 1 and Sept. 1, 2021, and growers who farm in the brown soil zone who have received less than 125 mm of accumulated rainfall between June 1 and Sept.1, 2021 and those who received less than 15 mm of rainfall in any of the months of June, July or August 2021.

Due to the extreme risk of crop injury, BASF will not be supporting canola, durum wheat, and canary seed as follow crops in the 2022 season if the recommendations aren’t followed.

“This isn’t the first time that BASF has put out a communication to our customers, advising them of potential risk. The difference this time around is there’s a lot more urgency and specificity to it,” says Russell Trischuk, technical services manager for BASF Canada.

Russell Trischuk

Russell Trischuk, technical services manager for BASF Canada

“Based on the weather information that we have, and historical data on where we see injury happening and how that pertains to the environment, this year we needed to warn growers that they will very likely experience this due to such an extreme drought in 2021.”

According to Trischuk, growers need soil to be moist for a period of time in order for herbicides to be broken down. Those conditions didn’t exist for many parts of the brown soil zone in Western Canada.

“We don’t want our customers to suffer major crop injury. It’s our duty as stewards of these chemistries to help them in their decision making. That’s why we left the door open for other crops they can plant, like spring wheat, which is at reduced risk in the event of herbicide carryover.”

Bauer wasn’t affected by the BASF warning of herbicide carryover, as he doesn’t do that kind of rotation on his farm, but he says growers like himself are becoming increasingly affected by such concerns in light of weather and climate events like the 2021 drought — especially given that lab tests to detect herbicide residue in soil can be costly, time consuming and misleading.

An alternative exists that involves the grower conducting a “bioassay”, which involves planting crops of interest in soil collected a few weeks before their scheduled planting date.

“It would be great to have an easier, faster way of testing the soil to see how much herbicide is actually in there. A lot of growers would welcome something like that,” Bauer says.

BASF is actively working on new ways to better inform growers about localized risk and what they can do about it, says Calgary-based Senior Brand Manager Daniel Packer.

“Providing better recommendations is something we’re always looking at. Digital tools allow us to provide a very specific recommendation to a specific customer. We have a very strong digital farming team and a lot of great resources and technology that we can use to create predictive modeling,” Packer says.

Daniel Packer

Daniel Packer, BASF senior brand manager

“That’s a major focus of ours, trying to see if we can predict these factors more accurately and more locally to a specific area and a specific customer in the conditions that they’re experiencing.”

Whiting stresses that appropriate crop rotations will be crucial in 2022 and will be one of the best weapons in the grower’s arsenal to combat issues like herbicide carryover.

“Bottom line is pay attention to what you sprayed in 2021 and what you’re growing on that field in 2022, because that’s where you could really run into the problems,” he adds.

He suspects growers may not be as picky about specific varieties and will be more focused on simply getting enough seed in time for planting.

“After a drought, I’m not sure variety matters as much. It’s going to more a matter of where am I going to find seed, and what’s it going to cost me? Because this year, with commodity markets the way they are, you can close your eyes and pick a price today and tomorrow it’s different.”

For Bauer, business has certainly become more complicated in light of last year’s drought and the ongoing pandemic.

“Grain prices are at a record high. They’re excellent. But most producers have pre-priced their crop in 2021, not realizing that we were going to have such poor results. The grain companies aren’t giving us any breaks. They’re charging full price for buyouts. That’s a problem to be worried about in the future,” he says.

“Are people going to be forward contracting more? The prices that we’re getting are double, but people didn’t have enough crop to capitalize on that. Meanwhile, we’re all in the same boat to buy inputs, and the prices are so high. And the risk is the most we’ve seen in a long time, maybe ever.”

Header Photo: Mike Goad from Pixabay

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