I am sensing a muffled drum roll in parts of Western Canada right now as a few thousand farmers across central and northern B.C., Alberta and Saskatchewan are waiting to see what this unharvested crop looks like, when they do have a chance to get it combined.
There were several thousand acres — about 10 to 20 per cent of the crop — in B.C.’s Peace River Region, and another one to 1.5 million acres each in Alberta and Saskatchewan caught by October snow. Is there anything there worth saving? How much is it worth? Is canola going to have any oil or meal value? How much mouse poop are we looking at?
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I recently talked to Barry Follensbee who farms at Rolla in the B.C. Peace River region for his take on the situation. He has about 20 per cent of his crop still unharvested and no fall field work done, he’s not sure how everything will play out this seeding season.
“It will get sorted out somehow,” he says. “But it is an unusual situation. We haven’t been caught with unharvested crop since maybe 1996 and I have never in my farming years not been able to get some or all field work done in the fall. This year there isn’t one pound of fertilizer down yet.”
Follensbee who crops about 3,500 acres of wheat, canola, malt barley and peas, says he and many farmers in the region use the post-harvest period to get anhydrous ammonia applied. That didn’t happen this year.
He did get about 80 per cent of his crop combined, but then it snowed Oct. 1 “and it never left.” In his area there was no November window to continue working on harvest. “I went to the November farm show in Red Deer and was a little annoyed to see combines running in central Alberta,” he says jokingly. “I didn’t have that option.”
Follensbee says he has swathed canola, wheat and barley to be harvested. He’s hoping the canola will still have a reasonable value and the cereals will probably be feed grade.
“All I can do now is hope for an early spring,” he says.
Aside from the scheduling problems in dealing with the “spring harvest,” the other concern is crop quality. Freeze and thaw conditions will affect canola seed oil content and quality. Rodent excrement is a wild card. Some parts of central and northern Alberta were reporting high mouse populations to begin with. With crop laying out under snow all winter, the little beggars no doubt had a field day, leaving plenty of calling cards behind. Can it be cleaned or kept out of oil and meal products?
How bad is it?
That’s what Canadian canola processors are waiting to find out, says Chris Vervaet, executive director of the Canadian Oilseed Processors Association (COPA). “We’re just in a wait and see situation,” says Vervaet. “Our members have had a lot of discussion about it, and we really don’t know what to expect. For now the door is open. We just have to see what quality is like.”
Oilseed processors will be interested in learning what the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) learns through its sampling of these snowed-in canola crops.
As part of a research project the CGC is asking farmers with unharvested crops to send in samples as soon as they are able to combine.
Since it fortunately doesn’t happen very often, “the impact of snow on canola quality has not been studied,” says Veronique Barthet, research scientist. The Canadian Grain Commission wants to assess the impact of snowed-in and over-wintered canola on the quality of the 2016 crop.
Barthet says farmers can obtain sample envelopes from the Canadian Grain Commission. They can just call or email and the sample envelopes will be sent out.
“Conditions can change from one field to another, perhaps there was more rodent pressure in one field than another — those types of differences,” says Barthet. “So if a farmer has two or three fields for example, we’d like a representative sample from each field.”