First came a deluge of rain, then a string of winter blizzards. Now, April showers are threatening to heap further moisture on waterlogged fields just as Canada’s farmers prepare to plant their fields this spring.
Parts of Canada’s prairies will be wetter than normal in the last two weeks of April, costing farmers “significant” field work delays at the start of planting, said Joel Widenor, an agricultural meteorologist with Commodity Weather Group LLC in Bethesda, Maryland.
That’s bad news for growers in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, where some fields are already saturated after some areas have received 150 percent of average precipitation since Sept. 1 following heavy fall rains and winter storms, according to the nation’s agriculture ministry. Farmers in Saskatchewan still have more than 1 million metric tons of grain left to harvest after conditions were too wet to combine last fall. That’s adding to concerns spring planting could be delayed, since soils will have to dry out to support harvest equipment before seeding can happen.
“You’d sink down in your rubber boots,” Brent Flaten, an integrated pest-management specialist with the provincial agriculture ministry, said by telephone from Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. “You get a double-whammy of very wet conditions this time of year, plus in some areas there’s still crop out.”
Canada is the world’s largest grower of canola and a major exporter of wheat, including spring varieties. Prices for spring wheat are up about 0.2 percent in the past year after wet fields contributed to lower crop quality, while a glut of winter grain sent futures of those varieties down about 10 percent over the same period.
The Saskatchewan Crop Insurance Corporation estimates there are still 1.3 million acres (526,000 hectares) in the province that need to be combined ahead of this year’s spring planting, the most in 10 years. The nations’ farmers usually start to sow their crops from the end of April through the beginning of May, depending on the weather. This year, that period will coincide with a storm track that is poised to dump above average rainfall in southern areas of Saskatchewan and Manitoba, Widenor of Commodity Weather Group said.
Areas in southern Manitoba that were hit by a significant amount of rain last harvest still have high moisture conditions, and soils are at the saturation point across much of the province, said Rejean Picard, a farm production extension specialist with Manitoba’s agriculture ministry. Parts of the region are already bracing for possible flooding, and the potential for spring runoff is above normal, the province said in a March 24 statement.
Eight Manitoba municipalities have declared a state of emergency amid overland flooding from ice jams, according to an April 3 provincial bulletin.
“If it starts raining, that’s when the concern is going to start,” said Dan Mazier, president of Manitoba-based Keystone Agricultural Producers. “You get two, three inches of water in a short period of time, that’s going to hurt.”
It may be too early to speculate what impact planting delays could have on this year’s crop, said Jerry Klassen, a manager of Canadian operations and trading at Gap SA Grains & Produits in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Farmers have until early June to get their crops in, so extra moisture in late April may not have much of an effect, he said.
Still, with so much of last year’s crop still waiting to come out of fields, farmers are hoping conditions dry out soon.
“It’s pretty soggy,” said Norm Hall, the vice president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, who still has as much as 12 percent of his 2016 crop of flax and canary seed to harvest before he sows his acres on his Wynyard, Saskatchewan farm. “We are wet, but we’re waiting patiently. It’s still early.”
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