50 Years of Ontario’s Heat Unit System



With the weather (finally) warming up, the Ottawa Citizen has published a timely story on the Crop Heat Unit system that was developed in Ontario 50 years ago by Dr.Murray Brown. It’s good to see the anniversary was picked up by a general news publication.

It was great to talk to Dr. Brown for the story I wrote for the February issue of the Ontario Grain Farmer:

THE MAN WHO came up with Ontario’s renowned Crop Heat Unit (CHU) system admits a little luck along with ten years of research led to its development. Considered the gold standard for helping farmers choose corn hybrids that are most suited for their area, the CHU system developed by Dr. Murray Brown was first adopted 50 years ago in 1964.

“At that time, corn hybrids were expanding in numbers that you wouldn’t believe but there were very few hybrids on the recommended list in 1963,” recalls Brown, a retired Professor from the University of Guelph’s School of Environmental Sciences.

Prior to the CHU system, a map with five zones was used for corn recommendations. Long-season varieties were recommended for Zone 1 in the southwest with shortest-season hybrids suggested in Zone 5.

“It was general, and farmers had to kind of guess what hybrids should go into each of the zones,” says Brown, who was a Research Fellow at the Ontario Research Foundation in Toronto at the time he recommended the CHU system to the Ontario Corn Committee.

The rest of the story is posted on the Ontario Grain Farmer website.

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Posted in Crops, Environment

Improving the odds of double-crop soybeans

Double Crop

Soybeans are planted into wheat stubble immediately after harvest.
Photo submitted by Horst Bohner, OMAF

Story published in December 2013 Top Crop Manager East  

By Blair Andrews 

An empty field after the winter cereal harvest can be a terrible thing to waste.  With earlier harvests taking place in Ontario in recent years, some farmers have been putting those fields to good use by planting a “double crop” of soybeans in early July. 

“Our growers are always looking at ways that they can generate extra revenue,” says Eric Richter, Syngenta agronomic sales, and a long-time proponent of double crop soybeans. 

 “To see a field harvested in early July and lay idle for the rest of the season just baffles me. There is an opportunity to plant a crop and generate some additional income.” 

Read more ›

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Brother act wins farm award

Elgies win Soil and Crop AwardFirst published in The Chatham Voice, December 2013

By Blair Andrews

Bill and Earl Elgie have teamed up to earn the Outstanding Farmer of the Year Award from the Kent Soil and Crop Improvement Association. The honour was presented during the association’s annual meeting at the Links of Kent (Dec.4,2013).

The Elgies, who farm near Dresden, were recognized for their lifelong commitment to conserving soil and improving the environment around their farm.
Read more ›

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Posted in Crops, Environment, Local Food

Finding precision ag paybacks for corn

Precision ag 1 sprayer

Story published in November, 2013 Top Crop Manager East

By Blair Andrews

The growth of precision agriculture with its array of new electronic devices has given farmers some powerful tools to get more out of every acre on their farm.

With big investments required, questions are being raised over how quickly these electronic guidance devices for gathering data and controlling equipment will pay off.

For Tim Norris, a 17-year veteran of precision agriculture from Ohio, crop sensors for variable rate nitrogen and individual row clutches for seeding top his list of technologies with the best payback for corn growers.

Read more ›

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UAV takes scouting to a higher level

EARL flying2(1)Story first published in November 2013 edition of Ontario Grain Farmer

By Blair Andrews

Thompsons is taking precision agriculture to new heights with an aerial scouting drone that was launched this year. E.A.R.L. – an acronym for Enhanced Aerial Reconnaissance Land-surveyor – is an unmanned aircraft that the company can use to fly over a farmer’s field.

Mike Wilson of Thompsons says the areas affected from the early water damage and the sand hills affected from the dry weather later in the season show up in red areas, and the higher growth or good areas are darkest green.

Read more ›

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Posted in Crops

Why you lost yield

Morris Sagriff

Morris Sagriff

When to start the planter, how to operate it properly, and corn stalk rot top the list of concerns for DuPont Pioneer senior agronomist Morris Sagriff as harvest approaches.

At the company’s agronomy information day on Aug. 27 in Chatham, Sagriff shared what he thinks are the most relevant issues that have caused growers to lose a significant amount of corn and soybean yield this year.

1. Soil fitness

Referring to it as the “art of farming,” Sagriff says deciding when to start planting is one of the most critical decisions farmers will make every year.

“I’ll tell you the earliest planted fields aren’t always the highest yielding fields,” notes Sagriff. “It gets down to you knowing the fitness of your land.”

Calling soil compaction the number one enemy to agriculture, he says the soils need to be suitably fit to ensure productive crops.

Before planting, he recommends that farmers dig two-to-four inches deep to check if the soil has a crumbly texture. If it’s too tacky or pasty, then it’s not ready.

See the full story in the September issue of Farmers Forum, western edition.


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Concerns about crop quality and yield linger after heavy storms

Farm floods

A little more rain in Chatham-Kent overnight (July 27) to go along with the deluge some farms have received this growing season. In a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago for the Chatham Voice, I talked to Dale Cowan and Janice LeBoeuf to get a handle on how all the rain affected some of the major crops in the area. The true extent of the damage won’t  known until harvest.

The unrelenting rain in parts of Chatham-Kent have left many farmers shaking their heads in frustration and raised concerns about the quality of this year’s major crops.

In his 32 years in the farming business, Dale Cowan, the senior agronomist at Agris Co-op, has never seen such a drenching in terms of amount and intensity.

“We’re getting storms of four to five inches in an hour and a half or less,” said Cowan.  “I have seen four-inch rains, but I haven’t seen three in the same week.”

Cowan said an area from north of Chatham and south of Wallaceburg to Tupperville appears to be the hardest hit.

“If you look at the last 15 days, on average, you had an inch of rain a day. So we’re just not drying out. It’s really starting to play havoc on the crops,” he said.

The problems include sugar beet fields that have been washed out, farmers not being able to get into the tomato fields to apply crop protection products and conditions that are ripe for a devastating disease in the wheat crop.

Here’s how Cowan said the heavy rainfall affects the major field crops:


In saturated soils, the roots are suffocating and growth is starting to be limited as the crop moves into the critical stage of tassel emergence.

“We don’t want a whole lot of stress at that point; it’s going to start impacting on yield.

With saturated soils, there is also the risk of losing the nitrogen that was previously applied. The nitrogen is needed to help feed the crop before harvest. “We’re going to see some yield impacts from the excessive water, limiting nutrient uptake and growth and just putting general stress on the plant at a critical time.”


The water-logged fields are causing root rot in the plants. Also, the nodules that normally fix nitrogen are dying off because there isn’t air in the soil from which to draw the nitrogen. The result is the affected soybeans are turning yellow. “That is just going to start impacting on yield heading into the reproductive phase of flowering.”

Cowan said the plants are struggling from receiving too much rain and can’t resume growth. Another problem is that the root rot can cause fields to lose several soybean plants, which will ultimately impact on the final yield.


Disease is the main concern, particularly fusarium head blight. It thrives in warm, moist, humid weather. Crops with certain levels are downgraded by the buyers. The disease can also produce a toxin (vomitoxin) that renders the crop unfit for animal and human consumption.

The wet fields are also a concern for harvesting the crop.

“We’re waiting for ground conditions to improve so we can get equipment in there and harvest. But basically, (the problem) is an impact on the crop with fusarium head blight…yield and quality are going to suffer.”

Sugar beets and tomatoes

Janice LeBoeuf, vegetable crop specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food in Ridgetown, explains the impact on sugar beets and processing tomatoes.

Some of the sugar beets have been flooded, killing the crop in the field. The surviving crop will be at risk for diseases that affect the roots.

Tomatoes are also at risk for root diseases in some fields but conditions are also ideal for the development of bacterial diseases on the foliage and fruit.

“I anticipate that we are going to see some yield reductions due to disease, even beyond what we have seen in flooded-out sections,” said LeBoeuf.

Crop management options for diseases and weeds have also been limited because wet fields are making it a challenge to apply crop protection products.


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Posted in Crops, Environment

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