Spring management options for un-harvested crops

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 Capture the highest value from your un-harvested crop that was overwintered, while managing cost and risk, and ensuring soil health for subsequent crops.

Check on Your Insurance FIRST
Before you take action with an un-harvested crop, contact your crop insurance provider to ensure that your plans are not contrary to your insurance policy’s recommendations or restrictions, and determine what is required in order for them to assess loss and make a claim. Visit the AFSC website for more information.

Is the Crop Worth Harvesting?
Those who decide to harvest the crop may be surprised at what they get. Yield and grade may be reduced, but there may still be significant value in the crop that still can be harvested. Take a representative sample of the crop to determine quality.

If rodent or wildlife damage has destroyed or shelled the grain, or if the crop is too flattened to pick up with a combine, then harvesting is not an option.

What Are My Crop Management Options?
When considering how best to manage the un-harvested crop, consider the condition of the crop (standing or swathed), when field access is possible, the economics of the management option, current cropping plans, risk of equipment damage, and conservation of soil, soil moisture and the long-term health of the soil.

There are several different management options that can include harvesting, baling, grazing, mowing, chopping, residue stacking, tillage and harrowing, each with their own pros and cons and varying costs.

The solution must leave the field surface in good condition for subsequent equipment operations and for crop establishment.

If any un-harvested areas are involved in land-use or conservation programs, check with the program facilitators first, to determine if there are any residue management practices that may not be allowed while participating in their program.

What Downgrading Factors May Have Worsened in a Crop Left Overwinter?
Sooty molds caused by naturally-occurring fungi will become more prevalent on dead plant material of any kind, including unharvested crops. Additionally, freeze damage, rodent excreta, and sprouting are also downgrading factors that can be more common in spring-seeded crops that overwinter.

What if the Overwintered Crop Delays the Timing of My Normal Seeding Operations?
When overwintered crops threaten to delay normal seeding operations, it may be wise to be ready to seed an early-maturing crop, or a silage crop, to ensure that late-seeded fields have a chance to reach maturity.

Will Crop Diseases Be Worse in a Crop That Has Overwintered?
A crop that goes long past maturity without being harvested may have lots of fungal growth on it. The growth of most fungi only occurs when temperatures are above freezing and lots of moisture is available, so this is not an issue during the cold winter months. Fungal growth is a natural occurrence on crop residues every year, and is not a cause for great alarm. In some cases, the fungi may be plant pathogens, but they will not cause any elevated risk of disease when good crop rotation and disease management principles are followed.

It is important to note that some fungi may produce mycotoxins (poisonous compounds). As a result, it is wise to get overwintered, or moldy crops tested for their levels of mycotoxins before feeding them to animals. For more information: Risk of using overwintered crops as livestock feed

Can I Seed Directly into the Un-harvested Crop?
Some equipment can seed through standing crop residue, but the crop material will affect crop establishment and equipment performance, resulting in hair pinning, poor seed to soil contact and emergence issues. If the area of un-harvested crop is small, this approach may work but as the number of acres increases it would become more difficult.

You will also likely see volunteer plants and weeds from the last year’s crop, so crop selection will be key.

What Can I Do About Stress?
There is no question that farming can be a stressful way of life. Unpredictable weather and financial pressures can contribute to bigger burdens farm families. Unexpected issues, like having crops left in the field over winter, can also cause unusual stress for farmers. Learn how to recognize and handle stress, and where you can get support.

Burning: What to Consider
One of the last options to consider is burning the crop. Check with your county or municipal district, most will require permits before burning your crop. If you are in the Forest Protection Area of Alberta, you need to get a fire permit from the Government of Alberta. There may also be fire bans or restrictions in place, especially early in the spring. Please check albertafirebans.ca for any restrictions and remember to contact your crop insurance agency.

Research has shown that burning crop residues has more negative effects than positive. Burning reduces soil organic matter, carbon and nitrogen. It can have negative effects on soil erosion, permeability and air quality, and disrupts the balance of microorgnisms in the soil reducing the biological activity and overall soil health.

Burning may destroy crop residues but will have little to no effect on crop diseases, and is not recommended to prevent diseases or destroy mycotoxins.

If you decide to burn: Burning tips
  • Do you have your fire permit? Follow the directions on the permit or as directed by the municipality.
  • If you plan on burning, make sure you also have sufficient property insurance in the event that your fire gets out of control, or spreads to neighbouring land.
  • Monitor your burn; don’t leave your field while it’s burning.
  • Burn small areas at a time and avoid lighting the entire field on fire at once.
  • Have a plan to deal with any emergencies.
  • Have a water truck and other equipment on hand.
  • Till the outside rounds of the field to create a fire break.
  • You will also have to monitor after your burn.
  • Consider baling the un-harvested crop, removing it from the field and later burning the bales away from your field. Burning the bales in a smaller controlled area is easier to monitor and manage than burning swaths in a field. This option will also help preserve the ground cover, residue and organic matter in the field.

Call 310-FARM for more information.
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For more information about the content of this document, contact Jeanna Friedley.
This document is maintained by Amrit Matharu.
This information published to the web on March 16, 2017.
Last Reviewed/Revised on May 5, 2017.