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CSI: CROP SCENE INVESTIGATIONS

Bal Cheema

You walk outside on what appears to be an exceptional summer’s day. The sun is rising, and the scent of new beginnings fills your nostrils. The birds are chirping, the rooster is crowing, verifying it is indeed day break and not just a vivid dream.

Or perhaps it is a nightmare—as you notice your berries are missing! Upon further investigation you discover the flower has detached from the receptacle, but how can this be? All steps have been taken for the perfect yield, to balance all deficiencies, to ensure optimal nutrient uptake, yet the flowers seem to be decapitated.

It is common for such instances to occur here in the Fraser Valley, or for that matter anywhere berries are grown. Playing detective is not for everyone, as your discoveries and response to the clues may create a hole in your wallet, or worse, a disaster for your crop for the season.

The good guys

Lucky for all of us, there are multiple measures in place to help aid in crop loss. The first defense is production insurance, which offers coverage for crops affected by natural occurrences. Not all issues will be resolved through production insurance, as some are best left to the experts in regards to their specialized skills within a chosen field.

But despite natural occurrences (for example, an unexpected rainstorm manifests which leads to crop disease as it was not managed beforehand), preventative measures can be taken in response to the peril event which resulted in crop loss.

Experts that know the crops well are sent to inspect and carry out investigations equipped with all the necessary tools such as field inventory, maps, notice of loss, along with other important information for a smooth assessment, including a professional attitude. They will do their best to figure out the proximate cause of the damage. It is discovered that appropriate fungicides could have been applied to counter the effects of the storm.

Experts that know the crops well inspect and carry out investigations.

Experts that know the crops well inspect and carry out investigations.

In one instance, excessive heat and an elongated fall created vegetative shoots in blueberries at an unprecedented rate, particularly within the Bluecrop variety. Reports suggest the variety was down 50-60% in some fields in 2017. Unexpected, yes, but can we combat this for this season’s crop? Possibly.

One way to strive towards interrupting this pattern is through weening the plants off water and fertilizer, thus causing happily growing plants to stress before dormancy. When the plants are happy, they’ll keep on growing in a vegetative expression, but once stress is introduced the plant shifts from its current path of growth to a path full of flower production.

Theoretically speaking, the stress in return can potentially help flower set for next season, moreover the production of vegetative shoots in this particular case. Eventually the rain will settle in sometime after harvest, making water limitation a challenge. This is where the consultants come in to play, offering their high-calibre knowledge and specialization.

Lastly the suppliers of inputs have knowledgeable people on staff to help farmers make decisions as to the inputs. While they of course try to sell us products, experience will show that good advice is to be had and these crop advisors are very useful within our risk mitigation strategy.

Complexity in another world

The underlying problem may not always be evident, as farming is just as complex as it is assumed to be simple. Other problems may arise with pests such as aphids, birds, calyx contaminants, or disease such as mummy berry, botrytis fruit rot, blight—and, of course, shock and scorch. And how can we forget about the most essential yet most influential part of all, the soil—an entirely new microbial world of its own, bearing biological, chemical and physical traits that all play a crucial part in the plant’s health.

The structure of the soil, whether it be angular blocky, granular, or block like, plays a role in the ion exchange along with gas exchange, which influences the soil’s ability to hold on to essential nutrients. Nutrient leeching, and the ability to conduct and compact water while testing its field capacity is also affected. We aren’t typically able to change the texture of the soil, but it certainly could be modified by adding soil amendments which in return may lessen or worsen the problem. Also keep in mind the alkalinity and acidity of the soil, as they may cause toxicities or deficiencies which may hinder microbial activity, as well as the plants effectiveness to produce. Healthy soil makes happy plants so we need to do due diligence and seek advice as needed.

Beyond the fence

It’s important to investigate all sources of potential problems while keeping an open mind to run your farm efficiently. The underlying problem may not always be caused through internal sources, rather external. These external sources potentially being your supply of seed and plants, neighbouring property management, or things that affect your crop’s ability to reach the expected cash out for the season. Imagine oversprays, trucks careening through the field, use of the wrong chemical, expropriations, pipeline integrity digs etc. Many scenarios may require the detective work and professional guidance from consultants, legal advisors and business evaluators.

So go ahead and smell the fresh morning air, knowing that even if you struggle to understand what is going on, there is plenty of expertise out there to help you along.

Bal Cheema

Bal Cheema Bio picBal’s passion for agriculture harmonized with the adoption of his dog and frequent walks in the wilderness which invigorated his spirit and confirmed nature as his calling. Bal’s path began at the University of the Fraser Valley’s Horticulture Diploma program, where he is exploring limitless possibilities in hopes of shaping our planet for a better tomorrow.
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