It is hard to believe that it is the first weekend in August. It has been a very busy summer and the farm has been doing well. We have harvested three of the ten crops and are just days away from the next two. The chickpea field that is inter cropped with flax is almost ready, I cut a sample yesterday and both the flax and chickpeas were a bit wet but they are looking well. The thought behind the inter crop idea is there is a relationship between the two crops that isn't fully understood, but the flax seems to keep ascochyta blight from infecting the chickpeas. If the blight does infect a chickpea field it limits the damage and slows the growth. This blight is very aggressive and can spread quickly though a field. The only thing a farmer can do when ascochyta is found is to spray it with a fungicide as soon as possible. The treatment is very expensive and is only effective for about two weeks, This blight persists throughout the growing system and in bad years can requires multiple treatments.
In the above photo you can see the darker streaks of the flax, we are able to drill the two crops at the same time using our Bourgault air seeder. The Bourgault seeder has an option called a mid row bander, this option allows material to be placed in between every other regular seed rows. We have previously been using the mid row bander to great success by placing all the nitrogen fertilizer at drilling instead of applying it to the surface of the soils like many farmers. We believe this placement has resulted in the high protein levels in our winter wheat and also in high yields in other crops. In the inter crop setting we have placed the flax between the chickpea rows. The chickpeas are on 12.5" spacings and the flax is seeded between every other row. The first question that we are asked is "How do you harvest it?" That is the beauty of the choice of the two crops, the difference in the seed size between chickpeas and flax is quite significant so any seed cleaner can separate them very easily. We combine the crops together using a stripper header and then run the mixed seed through our rotary cleaner. The flax, which flows like water, falls though the screens and is collected and augered into one truck and the chickpeas passes through the cleaner and is loaded into a separate truck. Another question we are asked is "Are there other benefits beside ascochyta control?" Looking at our two fields we are noticing quite a difference. The two fields were planted a day apart but while the inter crop field is ready for harvest, the mono crop field is at least a week away from harvest. We are also seeing that the inter crop field is ripening more evenly. This is relevant in that chickpea seed quality is very important and off color and green seeds result in docking the prices paid to the grower. This also allows less seed loss due to pod shatter as the early ripening pods can pop open before harvest because the grower is waiting for more seed to ripen before harvest takes place. This also reduces the need of desiccants as the whole field is ready at the same time. Another advantage is while pulse crops, like chickpeas, do not leave much crop residue after harvest but the flax leaves a strong stubble which will remain and help protect the soil.
So with all these positive reasons it begs the question of why wouldn't growers what to inter crop their chickpeas with flax. The first reason is the difference in chick pea yields, in test plots results in Canada there is a yield lag of 20 to 50 percent. This is something that needs to be taken in to account and weighed against the value of the flax harvested, improvement in quality and better residue. Another issue is the requirement for a seed cleaner and to convert a drill to be able to seed the inter crops if your drill doesn't have the ability already. There is also the issue of getting the crop insured or other required reporting. The systems that have been implemented in agriculture assumes that you only ever want to grow one crop at a time so there is only one blank for what crop is planted not what crops are planted. We also ran into the issue that for seed certification that only one crop can be raised in a field for certification purposes even though they are easily separated and it produces higher quality seed.
So where do we go from here? First, of course, is to finish harvest of both types of chickpea fields and analyze what the yield, quality, final cost and total revenue are between the two types of cropping systems. This will help us determine the financial outcome on the crop and where the price and yield levels are that will make inter cropping methods work. Another aspect we are going to be looking at is what other crops would inter cropping work for. We have already discusses inter cropping field peas and oats. We are excited about the possibilities and the benefits these other methods have for soil health.
It is hard to believe but it is time to get farming again. We have already drilled a couple of crops and that leads to the news that we have some major changes that are happening here on the farm. The changes are based around the focus that we have on soil health and crop diversity.
The one crop that we have already drilled is a repeat from last year, the yellow field peas. The most important thing raising peas is timing and their time is early. I was hoping that we would have drilled them starting by March 1st, but a number of things held drilling up so we started on the 13th and ended on the 14th. We were lucky to get the little moisture that we did this winter so the peas went into nice moist soil. With the last report from our agronomist they have sprouted and should starting poking up anytime now.
The other crop that we got in the ground is a new OLD crop, it is an ancient grain called einkorn. Modern wheat is a hybrid bred over thousands of years, humans crossing different wild grains to get the plant that we call wheat today. One of the wild grains that is an ancestor of modern wheat is einkorn. When it grows it looks very similar to wheat but when it is harvested it doesn't thresh out clean, instead the hull stays on the seed. What makes einkorn special is that some people that are gluten sensitive can eat products made with einkorn and it doesn't cause the intestinal distress that modern wheat can cause. It does contain gluten so individuals with Celiac disease cannot eat it but it is an option for people looking for a non-hybrid wheat. Einkorn seed is a challenge to find and we were lucky enough to get enough for 5 acres.
I am excited about this year because with the addition of einkorn we will be have the most diverse crop selection that we ever had on the farm. There are many other additions to the standard hard white winter wheat, white proso millet, yellow field peas and black oil sunflowers that we had last year. We have added six other crops. The new additions are einkorn (already mentioned), chickpeas (aka garbanzo beans), flax, buckwheat, grain sorghum (aka milo), and black eyed peas. The milo is a returning crop, we raised it a couple years ago, but all of the others are new to us and new to most farmers in this area. Stay tuned for updates about some of the things we are experimenting with including inner cropping and adding equipment to be able to offer gluten free harvesting.
In addition to the crops, we also have more livestock joining us. We are getting ready for their arrival and there is buzz in the air over them. We are adding ten additional hives of Russian bees this spring with more to come throughout the year. We are locating them in the middle of our operation on some grassland, this allows us to provide pollination for the crops while making it better for the bees. The crops that are new this year are well suited for bees and the buckwheat was actually chosen just for the bees. The hives will literally be within yards of the crops this year instead of a mile or two. The bees from last year have over wintered well and are out gathering pollen and nectar already, which is amazing as not much is flowering yet.
The other returning livestock is the brother chickens, we have already received a batch of chicks this year and they are almost three weeks old. I'm sure that Barb will be covering them as her schedule allows. She has been super busy working on her doctorate but her love of chickens still gets her out with the flock.
Well there are many other developments that have happened during the winter so stay tuned and I will try to get you up to date between all other projects. So until then, pray for rain as we always need it.
Roy will talk about the current events that are going on and why we are doing it, hopefully almost as good as Barb's Blog but lacking the fashion sense. This is a place for more technical information and day to day operations of the farm. Feel free to ask questions.