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Stubble soil moisture map

Les Henry’s annual stubble soil moisture map shows, for the most part,an overall rise in the water table across the Prairie region

The situation as of freezeup 2014, brought a few changes. My red pencil was not used even in Alberta and “super wet” is back as it was in 2010 and 2012. “Super wet” is for areas that had significant rains on top of that needed to bring the entire soil profile to “field capacity.” The end result of that situation is a rise in the water table.

Daphne Cruise of the government of Saskatchewan’s Ag Knowledge Centre in Moose Jaw alerted me to a situation on their farm at Stalwart, Sask. — just west of Last Mountain Lake north of Regina. They have a significant turkey operation that uses a lot of water; the water comes from shallow bored wells. After the big summer rains the lowest elevation well started to flow. I looked up the water well and e-log data and found a significant shallow intertill aquifer. The entry of water at higher elevations brought up the water level so a well at lower elevation flowed. The flow was handled by directing it to a nearby slough — but it was an interesting phenomenon. It is always fun to get the data and figure out Mother Nature’s plumbing system that makes it all happen.

The grey areas on the map are the super wet category which includes Weyburn east, where our fearless editor farms. She can tell me if I have it wrong*.

The map is based on the Alberta and Manitoba Soil Moisture Maps from their provincial government websites and on rainfall data. Rainfall data and some local soil probing is used for Saskatchewan.

The Saskatchewan rain data is from the Saskatchewan Agriculture Crop Reports that come from farmers dumping rain gauges. It is a good database and the Saskatchewan GIS folks are very good at making maps. Through the Moose Jaw Ag Knowledge Centre I am able to access any map I want. A soil moisture map cannot be made without a very large number of stations with good and complete records.

As for Manitoba, it may be heresy but I did use the orange pencil for a small area on the U.S. border. That is based on the rain records for the Morden, Winkler, Altona and Emerson stations. The Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Development website has daily rain records for many stations from April to freezeup. I just scanned down the record pretending to be an annual cereal/pulse/oilseed crop and looked for excess that would give storage for next year. Finding little excess and very low fall rain, I put it in the “dry” category. Readers can tell me if I am wrong.

With corn production on the rise in Manitoba, the water left over for next year might be reduced. Most of out regular crops are pretty much done using water by late July to early August — depending on seeding date. But, corn will use water well into August, leaving less “calendar” to add water to the soil for next year.

The orange/green line in the Saskatoon-north area was hard to place, but it generally follows the area mapped as “dry” last year. In a mid-July field day in clay soils near Saskatoon the crop was sucking hard on the third foot to keep alive. Daytime wilting was observed.

On my Dundurn farm high water tables are still providing sub-irrigation so the soil moisture at freeze-up is more than usual. There is more year-to-year carry over than we have experienced in more normal rainfall patterns.

So, there you have it — many areas are off to a fair start. May the sun shine upon you and the rain come when needed and the amount needed. Wishful thinking for sure.

*Editor’s note: Les Henry does not have this wrong at all. After our epic flood of 2011, there is still much more water here in southeast Saskatchewan than we would really like to see.

About the author

Columnist

J.L.(Les) Henry is a former professor and extension specialist at the University of Saskatchewan. He farms at Dundurn, Sask. He recently finished a second printing of “Henry’s Handbook of Soil and Water,” a book that mixes the basics and practical aspects of soil, fertilizer and farming. Les will cover the shipping and GST for “Grainews” readers. Simply send a cheque for $50 to Henry Perspectives, 143 Tucker Cres., Saskatoon, Sask., S7H 3H7, and he will dispatch a signed book.

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