How research may aid hail damage recovery.

The Canadian Crop Hail Association has reported higher than normal levels of hail storm activity in a number of regions across the country this year. While we can’t control the weather, researchers are looking into ways we can better control the aftermath of hail-related crop damage.

Rod Werezuk, research technologist at InnoTech Alberta, has teamed up with hail insurance adjusters at Agriculture Financial Services Corporation (AFSC) to look at how hail simulation research can improve hail damage assessments.

We’ve been working with AFSC for the last five years on more of a demonstration/education project for their hail adjusters, but in the process, we’ve come up with a fairly accurate way to simulate hail damage mechanically on canola,” Werezuk says. “Our objective with this hail simulation research is to help the hail adjusters continue to be accurate in their assessments of hail damage, but in a more timely manner. When we can help them understand the yield response to the different levels of damage, it will hopefully result in them not having to come back to the same field in the future for another assessment.”

Werezuk simulates hail damage by using a machine that was developed for just that purpose. The machine has a rotating drum which is driven by a hydraulic motor. Chains with golf balls attached to them are fastened to the rotating drum, and these chains are used to damage the research crops.

Product Research

Werezuk is also involved in another research project that aims to assess the effectiveness of crop inputs to help crops recover from hail damage. Producers are sometimes skeptical of the claims certain products make about their effectiveness in repairing damage from hail and other hazards, and it can be hard to navigate the many products that are out there.

He is collaborating with researchers from Farming Smarter and Smoky Applied Research and Demonstration Association for this particular project, which uses the same simulation machines as in the hail insurance project. The researchers wait a few days after damaging the crops to simulate what would happen in a real field. Then, they apply the products they are testing.

“We’re all conducting the same two trials which are on peas and wheat,” Werezuk says. “Our research objectives are to determine the response of the crop to simulated hail damage at different growth stages, determine the potential benefits of fungicide or nutrients on these crops and evaluate which management practices can improve crop growth, harvestability and yield after hail damage. We’re taking a close look at a couple of the products that have anecdotal or label claims about boosting a crop from hail damage. We have one
nutrient blend and one fungicide in the experimental design for each of the trials, but they’re different fungicides and nutrient blends for each one.”

The product research is in its first year of a three-year project, with funding provided by the Alberta Pulse Growers and the Alberta Wheat Commission, says Werezuk. The researchers don’t yet have enough information compiled to say definitively whether the products they are testing are effective. However, he says he is hopeful that the current research will encourage further investigation into even more products and solutions in the future.

“This is just the beginning,” he says. “This is the first time that the funding bodies have deemed it valuable. After the three-year project, I believe it will open the doors to more research. We’re excited to be on the forefront of this hail simulation research and we really see value in it.”

Product Solutions

While organizations like InnoTech Alberta research new approaches to hail damage recovery, some agri-retailers have already been working with their customers to bring back hail-damaged crops through the application of fertilizers to start the healing process.

Tim Palmer, territory manager for eastern Saskatchewan at Omex Agriculture Inc., knows firsthand the positive effect the right combination of nutrients can have on bringing a crop back from hail damage.

“If a plant gets hail damage and is still alive, it’s in confusion,” Palmer says. “What I mean by that is the top part and the bottom part are no longer communicating. That’s the process that you have to jump-start and get moving again. You also need to heal and seal the plant from insects and disease, since the plant has been weakened by the hail damage. We usually use a combination of boron, sugar movers and plant growth regulators that have been tested first at our research plot in Oakbluff, Man.”

The process for crop recovery after hail storms is similar for most crop types, notes Palmer – timing is imperative to ensuring the recovery is successful.

“The first step in the process is to stage your crop as soon as possible,” says Palmer. “And then you assess the damage. Generally, I tell producers if they don’t see 30 per cent of the crop there, it’s a hit-and-miss situation. Otherwise, it’s almost always a win situation. But, you want to get out there as quick as you can without destroying the rest of that field. Ag retailers can play a big part in helping with the timing by making sure they have these products on the shelf. Have them ready for customers so they can get them on the damaged crops as quickly as possible.”

The Results

Palmer says he often sees significant results with the products he recommends to customers. He notes that plants will usually begin to heal themselves after hail damage, but applying products can help boost the plants’ natural healing abilities and ensure that the yields will be better than the crops that receive no treatment.

“One extreme example I saw was in a canola field where there were two sites,” he says. “One site received no hail damage, while the other did. We treated part of the hail-damaged site with straight boron and did nothing to treat the other part of the hail-damaged site. The result was that it went from about 15 bushels in the untreated hail-damaged site to about 25 bushels in the treated area. The site that had received no hail damage was at about 28 bushels. Crops that are treated are frequently going to do better than ones that are left alone after hail damage.”

While there’s no miracle cure-all for hail damaged crops, with the products and methods available and the research being conducted, producers and agri-retailers may feel a little more optimistic the next time they spot dark clouds on the horizon.

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