Options for un-harvested crops

The question is how best to capture the highest value from the un-harvested crop, while managing cost and risk.

SUBMITTED — Deciding on how best to manage un-harvested crop can be difficult. The question is how best to capture the highest value from the un-harvested crop, while managing cost and risk.

Retaining as much residue as possible is beneficial for soil health, subsequent crops and conservation; however, the un-harvested crop must be managed to enable the best seeding practices and crop establishment in the following season.

To make a decision on how to proceed with managing the un-harvested crop there are several things that must be considered: the potential value of the crop, field conditions, whether the crop is still standing or in swaths, number of acres to be harvested and availability of time and equipment. Depending on when and how un-harvested crop is managed, cropping plans for the upcoming season may need to be adjusted; shorter season crops and/or early maturing varieties may need to be considered.

Before you take action, contact your crop insurance provider to ensure that your plans are not contrary to your insurance policies’ recommendations or restrictions, and determine what is required in order for them to assess loss and make a claim.

Decide if the crop is worth harvesting, what additional steps you will have to take, and how you can use or market the crop (i.e. overwintered crops maybe downgraded, moldy, rodent damaged or sprouted).

If any un-harvested areas are involved in land-use or conservation programs such as carbon off-sets, 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.

Decide which management option is best, based on the condition of the crop, current soil conditions, what the field conditions were last fall, impacts on spring field access, and ensure the solution will leave the field surface in good condition for subsequent equipment operations and for crop establishment.

Decide on the best timing. If snow cover is minimal, it might be better to get onto the field to manage that crop while the soil is still frozen and the crop is not wet. The plant material will be dead and possibly drier that last fall, so you may be able to harvest the crop and dry the grain if it is wet.

Assess costs. There is a cost associated with any harvesting or residue management practices and those costs will vary with the type of practice and amount of residue, and will be dependent on equipment ownership or if rental or custom contracting is required.

Consider plans for the next crop. It may be possible to seed into an un-swathed crop, but this can affect crop establishment and equipment performance, and cause volunteer plants and weeds from the last year’s crop, so crop selection will be key.

One of the last options you can consider is burning the crop. Check with your county or municipal district, most will require permits before burning your crop. There may also be fire bans or restrictions in place, especially early in the spring and remember to contact your crop insurance agency.

Burning un-harvested crop will not provide any value to you from the crop, will have little or no impact on crop disease and may negatively impact the soil. Smoke generated from burning can have air quality as well as visibility impacts that can result in health issues and even traffic disruptions.

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.

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.

Make sure there is proper insurance in place for burning.

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 or visit agriculture.alberta.ca/unharvestedcrops.