January 18, 2021 | Kelly Barany, Chin Ridge Seeds (en-CA)
Don Hubble says that he doesn't need to go to Vegas to gamble, "I only gamble once per year in the spring and it's a big bet!" Deciding what to seed is a tough choice, and there are a number of factors driving the final choices.
"When the canola price is flying high, it is tempting to go with the famous "canola-snow-canola" rotation," Hubble says with a laugh. "But we are committed to improving the health of the soil for the long term, so we want to protect our rotations to improve soil health and limit disease." With pulses, cereals and oil seeds all part of Chin Ridge's rotations, the land is rotated according. On a typical year, about 1/2 of the farm's acres are cereals, 30% in oil seeds and 20% in pulse crops. So crop type rotation is something that is strived for.
Also impacting crop choices are field specific conditions like alkali or sandy soil. Chemical rotations have also become a very important aspect of farm planning, to ensure weeds can be controlled and to ensure the chemical history will not negatively affect the next year's crop.
"Economics are a major factor in our seeding decisions," says Hubble. "We make a best guess at future commodity prices and then plug that into an excel spreadsheet which takes into account our variable and fixed costs for the year. It is important to be as realistic as possible with your estimates, so we do scenarios for above average, average and below average yields and pricing. This helps us to see the full range of options and may result in us picking a crop that has a lower maximum profitability but has lower risk in a less than ideal conditions. This is particularly important on our dryland acres, where we can't control the moisture the crop gets."
The government of Alberta and Saskatchewan both have decision making tools and models on their websites but Hubble prefers his own excel sheet where he understands how the calculations all work.
Another critical factor impacting the seeding plan is the fact that the majority of the farm's crops are grown as pedigreed seed. As seed growers, Chin Ridge is focused on following the regulations for crop history and isolations to ensure that the seed can be produced with the required purity. "Sometimes we end up with a rotation that is less than optimal so that we can maintain purity and switch to another variety," says Hubble. With Chin Ridge growing up to 30 seed plots on the farm in a given year, proper land selection and rotation are key.
"Our method to making seed decisions isn't perfect," says Hubble, "but we try to get better every year."