Harvest is not done yet, but already growers are having to start planning for 2017. Time might be running out, however, to take advantage of fall to get some key tasks completed in advance of spring.

“If I had to break it down, I’d say there are four key things a grower has to think about this fall,” says Daphne Cruise, a crop management specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. “The first is soil testing.”

There have been some big yields in 2016 as a result of excellent moisture conditions throughout the season. Quality might be an issue now as the fall has presented with some sort of precipitation event every few days which is taking its toll. “However, despite the fact quality might be less than stellar, this crop will have mined considerable nutrients from the soil,” says Cruise. “This is a year that growers should consider fall soil testing, if that is not already part of their post-harvest management strategy.”

Soil testing is an important tool used to gauge soil fertility and plan a suitable fertilizer strategy to maximize the yield potential of the crop in the following season. Soil samples are best taken when soil temperature has dropped to 100C or lower. “Right after combining is usually a good time to take soil samples,” says Cruise. “The soil has usually cooled sufficiently that bacterial activity and mineralization are at a minimum.”

The next planning tip is seed testing. “The impacts of the 2016 weather challenges will linger well into the 2017 crop when we consider seed,” says Cruise. “The top reasons to test seed now are to know more about germination potential, vigour, and disease levels.” Seed germination is generally more impacted by the environment at harvest. If it is cold and wet, as we are experiencing now, this can have negative impacts on seed quality. “We know for a fact that cereals will have disease issues,” says Cruise. “Testing for fusarium is especially important there. Pulses have also been hit hard.” Cruise also advises testing seed now so decisions can be made about using bin-run seed or investing in Certified seed, as well as giving time to consider what seed treatments should be applied. “The goal is to get that crop up and out of the ground next spring as fast and as evenly as possible, to get it off to the best possible start, to maximize yield right from the get-go.”

“Weed control is the third big problem that ideally should be dealt with in the fall,” says Cruise. “It won’t negate the need to consider a pre-seed burn-off but it will go a long way to controlling those typically difficult hard-to-control winter annuals and perennials that without a fall pass can quickly get past the point of control in the spring.” The excessive moisture this year benefited not only crop growth but weed growth. “As a note, I advise growers to be particularly vigilant when it comes to water quality. If your water is very hard, use a water conditioner, particularly for glyphosate which is quite sensitive in that regard.” Weeds do need to be actively growing to have a successful pass with glyphosate. Spraying at temperatures below 100C will not be as effective.

Finally, planning crop choices for 2017 starts now. “Growers always want to seed as early as possible in the spring, but it’s important to plan exactly which crop goes first as some are better suited to earlier seeding than others,” says Cruise. “Soybeans, for example, should not be seeded before soil temperatures reach 100C or higher.”

What will dictate crop choice – agronomics or marketing signals? “Likely it’s going to be a blend of the two of these, sometimes competing, signals,” says Cruise.

To close, whether or not there will still be harvest to finish off in the spring will bring additional challenges and delays into the schedule. Whatever can be completed in the fall is going to make planting next spring a great deal easier.