Sunday, November 30, 2014

Three Beekeepers

By now my loyal readers, I am sure you have heard of the provincial government's proposal for reducing the amount of neonicotinoid seed treatment used on corn and soybeans by 80% for spring 2016.  An additional objective stated is to reduce the overwintering bee mortality rate to 15%.

Here is the link where you can find the governments position paper and the meeting notices.

Bear with me while I rant.

1. This is politically inspired.  It plays well to the mass of urban electorate that placed the Liberals in power.

"Improving pollinator health is not a luxury but a necessity. Pollinators play a key role in our ecosystem and without them, much of the food we eat would not be here.Taking strong action now to reduce the use of neurotoxic pesticides and protecting pollinator health is a positive step for our environment and our economy.”
Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Glen R. Murray 
To the urbanite living in the condos and subdivisions this makes absolute sense.  To the farm population that watches prime agricultural land get bulldozed for parking lots and strip malls under the watchful eye of the Minister of Environment and Climate Change it means something else.
2. The agenda of this current government goes beyond neonicotinoids.  Our "independent environmental commissioner" appointed by the legislature had this to say earlier. 
"All the science is not done, but everything I have before me ... suggests to me as an ecologist that this is the biggest threat to the structure and ecological integrity of the ecosystem that I have encountered in my life. Bigger than DDT,”  
Ontario's Environmental Commissioner, Gord Miller
This quote illustrates the depth of an influential government appointee's dislike of pesticides. Or maybe it is just the pesticides corn and soybean producers use. Neonicotinoids are registered for use in many applications including greenhouses, lawns and flea collars.  For a complete listing of registered products in Canada go to this site and search for the active ingredient imidacloprid or chlothianidin.

Pesticide Product Information Database

3. The timing of this announcement is an insult.  Right now Ontario's corn and soybean producers are struggling through the worst harvest season in recent memory and are far from done. The first 4 public meetings web sessions are scheduled for the week of December 8.   The beekeepers who support this initiative have bedded their hives down for the winter.  Their environmental allies also have time and I suspect some advance warning, to present their point of view at the public meetings. 
Now that I have made you mad, let's calm down and think it through.  If you have already responded to the government with your point of view, good for you.  
At the very least ask for more public meetings and time to respond.  These are the e-mails that you can use for that purpose.  
Ontario Premier Kathleen;
Minister of Agriculture, Food and Rural Development, Jeff Leal: and
Minister of Environment Glenn Murray: and
Interim Leader of the Progressive Conservatives Jim Wilson:
Official Opposition Critic for Agriculture, Toby Barrett:
Official Opposition Critic for Environment, Lisa Thompson:
There is a lot of information to consider and digest.  It takes time to read the reports and think about the potential impacts on your business.  Do this in a quiet space that you use for thinking and planning.  After that please make your thoughts known to our political masters.
There will be some corn and soybean producers who support the government's position. As well, some bee keepers will not support the government's position.  All sides have some merit and deserve a chance to speak.
The proposal includes the usual three pillars of government.  Specifically, more training, more paperwork and more work for "3rd party inspectors".  We all know who will bear the brunt of these additional costs.  There is no provision for the producer who sustains a yield loss from an unanticipated insect outbreak.

The proposal itself was released on the same day as an interim report from the PMRA on bee colony losses. This report is worth looking at and understanding.  This is the link.
Update on Neonicotinoid Pesticides and Bee Health

The report presents information that is both supportive and contradictory to the government's proposal.  I will draw your attention to the last chart in the report which documents the number of bee yards reporting colony effects in Ontario in 2014.  The number of reports from spring 2014 were down 79% from 2013.  Could the weather or farm practices be the reason for the reduction?  Farmers usage of neonicotinoid seed treatments did not change in 2014.  Maybe something else was responsible.  This cannot be determined, but for the good of farmers and bee keepers alike it needs more study, not regulation. 

The summer reports of colony effects from July to October were up significantly, but 72% of these reports came from 3 beekeepers. 

I repeat, three beekeepers.         

Monday, November 17, 2014

I Take It All Back

Never again will I question the predictive ability of the persimmon.  Humbled by nature once again, I apologize to all persimmon growers everywhere.  Your little fruit is amazing, fantastic, the best of the best and belongs in the fruit hall of fame.  If not already a member, I hereby volunteer to write the referral letter to the selection committee.   Now please make the snow stop.

Meanwhile, a customer was speaking to me earlier in the week about how his corn crop was making grade 2 without the presence of a distinct black layer.  How can that be, he asked.  He had the impression that no black layer meant that in addition to high moisture, low test weight would automatically go hand in hand.

I was weighing off some corn plots early last week before the snow shut down harvest that were planted during the last week in May.

As exhibit A, I present a picture of the grain sample from P9675AMXT, a 2850 CHU hybrid.
It clearly indicates strong black layer formation indicative of corn that, in theory fully matured before frost shut it down this fall.  The moisture content of this sample was 29% and it weighed in at 325 gm/.5L which indicates a grade 3.  A grade 3 is quite typical for a lot of corn in this neighbourhood.

As exhibit B, I present a sample of P0157AM which is 200 CHU later than P9675AMXT. Keep in mind both samples came from the same field, planted May 26.
This sample was 32.4% moisture which makes sense given it is a 3050 CHU hybrid. This maturity is on the full season side for our area.  The black layer is very poorly defined.  It appears to be more of a brown layer and in some kernels a cream coloured abscission layer.  But the intriguing fact is the test weight of this sample was 338 gm/.5L which makes it a grade 2.  How can it be a grade 2 with no black layer formation?

Two things to keep in mind.
1.Test weight and moisture are not automatically correlated.  One needs to be careful making assumptions.  Black layer is a terrific tool for evaluating when hybrids make it across the frost safety date, but is less accurate at predicting test weights.  Immature corn at moisture levels above 40% will have low test weight because it has not converted the liquid sugars inside the kernel to more dense and heavier starch. The reason corn did not dry back in the infamous fall of 1992 was due to the kernels containing a high percentage of sugars and very little starch. Natural occurring yeasts that function in the presence of oxygen started to ferment the sugars, converting them to alcohol which increased moisture levels in the grain.  Those same yeasts have a tough time fermenting starch.  You have to limit oxygen to make well developed grain corn ferment which can only be done by putting it in a silo or a big pile.
This year starch conversion while not fully complete as indicated by the generally reduced test weights and lack of clear black layer, is much closer to normal.

2. Genetics matter.  P0157 has a higher than average test weight score than P9675 which is only average for test weight.  That is likely the biggest reason for seeing the results we did in this case.  In fact, P0157 was the highest test weight of all the hybrids in this plot, 6 of them being earlier in maturity than P0157.  Of course not all P0157 in every field is making grade 2.  In addition, samples from only one plot should never be interpreted as gospel, but I think it proves a point.  One of the biggest contributors to making grade in a year like this one is the relative genetic disposition of each hybrid for test weight. The comparative maturity of hybrids to each other is secondary, which seems odd in a cool year, but that is how it works.
I actually believe what we are seeing has a lot to do with the hybrid's ability to function in cold temperatures.  Just as some hybrids handle heat and drought stress better, others handle cold stress better.  The challenge as always is to identify genetics that function well in all environments.

The final word in case you were wondering is P9675AMXT ran 162 dry bu/ac and the P0157AM ran 168 bu/ac.  Incidentally, P0496AMXT, a 3100 CHU hybrid was the highest yielding hybrid at this location and the only other hybrid in addition to P0157 whose sample made grade 2.

Genetics and of course the persimmon, make a difference.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Wiarton Willie's Job Is In Jeopardy

The feminine members of our family continue to explore new foods and culinary experiences. Terrilyn's fiance's family from Toronto has fallen into a habit of sending us a variety of delights that fall into two broad categories, food that we cannot source in St Marys and food that we have never heard of and sometimes don't know what to do with.
Last weekend some persimmons showed up on the kitchen counter via a Toronto food market.
Persimmons are far from being exotic, but having no experience with persimmons, Google was enlisted. Persimmons are good to eat just like you would a peach.  I did eat one and to be honest when compared to Ontario grown apples and pears I would not cross the street for a persimmon. With great respect to persimmon growers I am sure the only way to enjoy them fully is fresh off the tree. More interesting to me was the weather prognosticating ability of the persimmon tree.  However, the message gave me chills.

University of Missouri

Washington Post

Farmer's Almanac

All persimmon signs are pointing toward a snow laden winter.  Just what we all wanted to hear.  If the persimmon seeds are accurate, any thoughts of leaving corn out over the winter may not be a wise.  

The biggest question of the week has been will this corn dry down if we leave it?  And by how much?
The answer to the first question is easy, yes it will.  Despite what some would think, corn does dry in November.  I have seen corn in November drop 5- 10 points.  The problem is we can't predict by how much nor how fast.  Heat becomes a non factor in November leaving humidity or the lack thereof, as the key to drydown.  If it rains every day, drydown will be agonizingly slow and as I write this it is drizzling outside my office window.  The weather forecast has too many days of forecast rain and light snow in it to make me feel good about drydown. But I would argue that this crop will behave more normal than one would think even if it is low in test weight and high in moisture.
For one thing, it thrashes easily.  You don't have to smash it to get it off the cob like you sometimes do with immature corn.  The samples coming off the combine, if a little time is taken to make adjustments, are very clean.  This tells me the kernel integrity is good and the abscission layer (whether it is brown or black doesn't matter) between the kernel and cob is well defined.  If humidity drifts down the corn will naturally dry.  It is NOT like 1992 when corn moisture went up before it came back down.
Should you leave it out is a different question with not a simple answer.  If it is still above 35% I would tend to leave it for a bit, especially if it is still standing well.  If it is already under 30% and a big chunk of corn is heading that way, I would get at it.  Stalk quality while still okay in this area will not hang on for ever.  As we have stated in previous posts, there is big yield out there.  It would be a shame to lose it to a snow laden winter, just to save a bit of money on drying.
When we add the persimmon forecast to the fact we farm in Ontario's snow belt the threat of snow is real.
On the other hand I am not betting on the accuracy of the persimmon.  Now if we could only give Wiarton Willie a steady diet of persimmons, we probably could improve that accuracy big time.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

#Harvest 14

Round 1 of Harvest '14 goes to mother nature.  This picture is Rick and Tony Merkel combining P9623AM on October 23.  Unfortunately, this has been a rare occurrence so far.  Her combination shots of jabs and uppercuts have us on the defensive.  Soybean harvest is maybe 50% complete in these parts and grain corn is maybe 10%, mostly driven by early harvest premiums.  Trends are being established and these are my observations so far.

Soybean yields have been on the plus side of 50 bu for the most part.  Six days of good soybean harvest weather in the month of October is just not enough to get all the acres harvested.  Early IP varieties that were ready a month ago are still standing thanks to lousy dry down conditions.  I cannot recall a year with this many acres of soybeans still out on November 1.  Some growers have already pulled the pin on IP premiums and gone into salvage mode.  I suspect the remaining acres will end up down the same path.
Most of the corn harvested to date was planted prior to May 12. Yields have been excellent, generally north of 180 bu.  There is a good crop out there. Test weights have been low with lots of reports of grade 3 and some grade 4.  The trade needs corn and they have not been fussy about quality.  As we get into the bulk of the acres planted in the last week of May we expect moisture to climb while test weights drift lower. How the elevator trade responds to a big crop of low test weight corn is still a guess. The job of the market is to buy the crop as cheap as they can.  Low test weight corn still has excellent nutritional value as livestock feed.

2. Maturity.
I have been accused and justifiably so, of being a supporter of full season genetics.  I hate leaving yield potential on the table and that is the main reason I shade recommendations toward fuller season soybeans and corn. Earlier hybrids like P9623AM and P9644AM are now 25-26% moisture while later hybrids like P0094AM and P0157AM are 30-32% moisture.  Five points of moisture on a 200 bu crop costs an extra $12 per acre to dry. With current prices at $4 per bushel, you only need 3 bu to cover the extra drying charge. The fuller season hybrids have been delivering that extra yield so far. In fact, the highest yield I have seen to date is a field length strip of P0496AMX at 225 bu and 30.5% moisture.  P0496AMX is a 3100 HU hybrid.  The question that still needs to be answered is how well full season hybrids hold up when we start harvesting more corn planted during the last week of May.

The story regarding soybean maturity vs yield is different.  Good early varieties are yielding the same or better than later varieties.  In our own plot, 91Y01 rated at 2775 HU ran 58 bu, the same as P19T01R which is rated at 3000 HU.  It is a glass half full or half empty type of comparison.  Good full season varieties have not delivered extra yield, but they have not delivered less yield either.  As already mentioned, early IP's (less than 2700HU) were ready back in the first week of October, but due to lack of combine power and elevators holding the line on moisture some of those beans are still out there.  Any delay in full season variety development to moisture has been a non factor due to the lack of good harvest weather.  After Thanksgiving passed everything was the same moisture regardless of maturity.

3. The Next Ones
Looking forward I have been impressed to date by a selection of new genetics that are being demonstrated on customers farms this year.  A summary of yield data data will be coming soon.
P0496AMX is bringing excellent agronomics, good test weight and grain quality characteristics to the 3100 HU zone.

P0157AM and AMX is a new 3050 HU hybrid.  Similar story as P0496 with respect to agronomics and grain quality.
 P9644AM and AMX is a new 2850 HU hybrid.
P15T83R has been impressive for a 2900 HU soybean in a cool year.  Interestingly, I would not have picked this variety as a consistent performer because it was yellow as a duck's foot in early July. This was especially true in no-till conditions where cooler soil temperatures seemed to be affecting N uptake by the plant. We are finding out with this new variety that looks can be very deceiving.

4. Speaking of New
Something to occupy his time when he is not spraying, blowing snow, helping neighbours or selling seed is Brian's new flail mower.
It is a mid mount Diamond mower with a 21' reach.  Keeping bush lines and creek banks clean can be time consuming.  If you are interested in pushing back brush and limbs that shade out crop and scratch machinery, give us a call.