Agronomy Updates – Sept 18th

Hello growers and industry partners,

My agronomy update is coming a little early this week, as I have to be out of province the rest of the week.  It’s nice to see the sun this morning…hopefully it sticks around for a couple of weeks, as the forecast indicates.  I see that there is a risk of frost in low-lying areas tonight…hopefully that isn’t the case, as there are a lot of fields that still have lots of tuber bulking to do.

I’m not going to bother listing a bunch of rainfall totals…everyone knows that it’s wet.  We could likely do without any rain for a couple of weeks now in order to be able to get on the land for land preparation and harvest.  Here’s hoping that Mother Nature cooperates with us this autumn.

Some folks have started to dig across the Island.  I’ve been hearing positive reports of chip stock harvests in West Prince, disappointing yields from eastern PEI on sandy ground.  At the two Cavendish Agri variety tours on Monday, yields were quite encouraging on most varieties and plants were still pretty green in order to keep adding tonnage.  There will be some very high yielding fields this year, and there will also be some disappointing fields.  It sounds like people are generally happy with their Russet Burbanks this year, which is still a significant portion of the acreage across the province.  I hope that the next two weeks provides the conditions that allows the crop to bulk with good quality…you all deserve strong yield with high payables after a year of hard work.


Cover Crops:

While we’re waiting for the potatoes to keep bulking and to start harvest, it’s the right time to ensure that cover crops are being managed or are getting established.

If you plough/Lemken/Synkro land this time of year in preparation for potatoes next year…I would encourage you to establish a cover crop in those fields.  Something like oats or barley is accessible and can be broadcast and lightly covered/rolled to get good establishment for the fall.  It’s getting pretty late for brassicas (radish, mustard) but cereals should establish well if we get the type of weather they are forecasting for the next couple of weeks.

The AIM Soil Working Group was in England last week, and we heard from researchers there that both from grower surveys (using practices and yields) and from side-by-side trials that cover crops ahead of potatoes generally provided an 8 to 10% yield bump in the potato crop.  That is similar to numbers from other vegetable crops in Ontario research.  Besides the soil erosion control benefit of cover crops, that really makes the economical justification to use cover crops where possible.

Morgan and I are establishing trials this fall through the Living Labs partnership on both fields going into potatoes next year as well as after potato harvest this fall.  We will be hopefully looking at different crop species, different timing of establishment, and different rates/methods of establishment.  We look forward to sharing more results with you in the future.

A note on seeding rates for cereals:  don’t skimp too much, especially the later it gets.  According to the Cover Crops Decision Tool, these are the minimum recommended seeding rates when broadcasting.  Drilled rates would be 10-20% less. (factsheets from OMAFRA)

Oats:  60 lbs/acre
Barley:  60 lbs/acre
Winter Rye:  75 lbs/acre
Spring Wheat:  65 lbs/acre
Winter Wheat:  65 lbs/acre

In all cases, there is a wide range of rates, but these would be seen as the minimum.  I know a lot of growers in PEI that use rates closer to 80-100 lbs per acre for fall cover crops.  Again, increase the rate slightly the later it gets (after October 1st).

According to the Cover Crop Decision Tool, the last date for reliable establishment of oilseed radish or mustard is Sept 24th in Prince County and Sept 26th in Queens/Kings County.  If we get a long open fall, there may be a great window for establishment.  However, if you are interested in using brown mustard or oilseed radish (great cover crops for many reasons), it might be worth considering mixing with some amount of oats or barley to ensure that something is established.

Final note on cover crops:  for anyone that is a podcast listener, there is a podcast all about cover crops from the USA called the Cover Crop Strategies Podcast.  It’s available on iTunes, Google Play, or wherever you get your podcasts for free.  Great listening for time in the tractor or truck this fall.

AIM Study Tour Report:

As mentioned, I was away recently with members of the AIM Soil Working Group to attend Potatoes Europe in Belgium, followed by 5 days of visits in England.  Here is a link to our report on the trip.  It gave us a lot of ideas for trials, new technology, and different practices that we could look at adapting or adopting here in Prince Edward Island.  The UK definitely has some advantages to us when it comes to producing potatoes (longer season, proximity to market, access to irrigation) but they also have some big challenges (PCN, fewer crop protectants, soil compaction).  If anyone has any questions about anything in the report, please feel free to contact me or follow up with anyone who was on the trip.

Bruise Reduction:

You have all put a lot of work into growing a great crop, and it’s important to ensure it goes into the storage in the best condition possible.  That means reducing bruising and tuber damage as much as possible.  A number of the newer processing varieties (ie. Dakota Russet, Clearwater Russet) are more bruise susceptible than Russet Burbanks and need to be treated even more carefully.  In addition, a number of these varieties (as well as many standard varieties) are susceptible to Fusarium dry rot that is exacerbated by rough handling during harvest or loading into storage.

Here is a link to a good overview on bruise prevention from the University of Idaho.  It’s worth a read as a refresher on how to ensure that you eliminate bruising as much as possible, as well as doing testing to see what level of bruising you are getting from current handling processes.

I’ll be back next Monday, and I look forward to seeing a lot of you at the Cavendish Research Day next Tuesday in New Annan.  Morgan and I (and our valued research partners!) will be starting yield digs next week on our different research trials.  Looking forward to seeing the results of the different trials we have been doing from growers from across the province.

Take care, and stay safe!