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Farmer Panel: Rain in the nick of time

Moisture helps crops get to second base, but not a home run — yet

It may not be the case in all parts of Western Canada, but for producers contacted for the July Farmer’s Panel some much-appreciated rain in the latter part of June saved the bacon of a lot of crops but, as was duly noted, heading into July “it’s not in the bin yet.”

Rain may not have hit every acre of prairie cropland, in what was shaping up to be a year of widespread drought, but it certainly helped where it did fall. All panel participants described a growing season that got off to a rocky start — generally cool, dry growing conditions at seeding, resulting in uneven germination and a “stagey” crop stand, in some cases followed by infestations of crop pests. It was anything but picture perfect.

But with all producers reporting little or no rain since seeding (in some cases no rain for months before) various amounts of precipitation in the last two weeks of June at least has given crops a chance. Success will depend on growing conditions over the coming six weeks and whether frost holds off for what might be a later harvest season.

As we near the mid-way point of the 2019 growing season, here is what Prairie producers are saying about conditions in their area:

Robert Semeniuk, Smoky Lake, Alta.

Robert Semeniuk described it as somewhat of a “Bizarro” growing season in the Smoky Lake area about 120 km northeast of Edmonton.

“We went from quite dry conditions at seeding to where we are almost floating here today,” he says in a late June interview. “At and after seeding it was extremely dry and now, although it has been a bit spotty, we’ve had as much as seven inches of rain in June and most of that in the past week or so.”

Despite uncertainties about the canola market, Semeniuk says he pretty well stayed with their usual crop mix and rotation for 2019. That includes hard red spring wheat, Canadian Prairie Spring wheat, malting barley, peas and canola.

“The seed bed had some moisture when we seeded, but then it soon dried out,” he says. “It was cold, germination was slow and uneven. We usually have good subsurface moisture, so that wasn’t a concern, we just needed moisture to get the crop growing.

“Now with some rain, overall crops are doing quite well. They are not as even as they could be, but they are looking decent. It won’t be a bumper crop by any means, but it should be okay.”

Semeniuk says he hasn’t seen any serious pest problems, such as flea beetles or cutworms in his area, although he is seeing some aphanomyces root rot in peas.

Stewart Collin, Foremost, Alta.

Stewart Collin says in an area that has had a very dry spring, it is amazing the difference an inch of rain can make.

Although it was spotty across the region, his farm, about 100 km south of Medicine Hat, received about an inch of rain in late June which has helped bring crops back from the brink of a wreck.

“Driving around the country today you’d never know these crops were just a few days away from not looking very good,” says Collin. “We have no subsurface moisture and conditions were quite dry at seeding.” It was an early seeding season with Collin getting seed in the ground just before and after Easter (April 20).

“We did have about 1-1/4 inches of rain over the weeks after seeding which helped crops hold on,” he says. “Generally, in terms of moisture, it has been a hand-to-mouth growing season.”

With mustard, canola and durum wheat seeded on his farm, Collin notes a considerable increase in lentil and chickpeas acres on farms in the area. “When everyone was making final cropping decisions this spring there were no real winners in terms of what to grow, but it appears that the pulses were the go-to crops for many.”

While Collin says crops are generally looking pretty good after the inch of rain, more moisture will be needed.

Dallas Leduc, Glentworth, Sask.

With as much as five inches of rain over parts of a very dry southwest Saskatchewan, in late June, Dallas Leduc says it will definitely help crops that were moisture stressed, but it won’t fix uneven maturity.

“We have a very two-stagey crop out there I’m not sure how I am going to handle,” says Leduc who farms at Glentworth, about 170 km south of Swift Current. “You go down the seedrow and part of the crop is bolting and a few inches away it is just emerging. That will present some challenges.”

Leduc says while there was snow in late April, the area only had about 3/10ths of an inch of rain during May and most of June. At the end of June however, a fairly large area received anywhere from 2-1/2 to five inches of rain. “Depending on where you were it was anything from light showers to a downpour gully washer,” he says.

“It was getting pretty brown and sad looking,” he adds. “We were perhaps four or five days away from crops being a write-off. This rain has certainly brought a feeling of optimism. People are feeling happier.”

Leduc who is growing yellow peas, durum and flax this year, says the early seeded peas actually caught moisture from the snow and the crop is looking good in a fairly even stand. The durum and flax, however, are “really quite patchy.”

On a farm that has been straight cutting all crops for years, Leduc says he may be looking at swathing this fall just to allow crops to finish ripening. “I have the headers for the combines, all I need is to find a swather.”

Gerrid Gust, Davidson, Sask.

A couple of inches of rain in late June renewed Gerrid Gust’s optimism he may harvest a crop this fall, but it won’t be an easy crop to harvest and he’s keeping his expectations in check.

“There is still time for things to settle down and crops could do quite well,” says Gust who farms at Davidson, about 100 km southeast of Sask­atoon. But at the same time, he knows crops will need more moisture and he’s going to need a nice open fall with no early frost or snow so he can get what is growing in the bin.

“We haven’t had a drop of rain here since last fall,” he says. Crops were suffering before that two inches of rain in late June. Lentils are at full stage of growth, “but no taller than a beer can,” he says. Under more normal conditions they should be three times taller. Canola is very patchy with three or four stages of growth in the field ranging from bolting to just emerging, at the time of the late June interview. That’s going to be a challenge at harvest as well.

Concerned about the global marketing issues with canola, he switched a good part of his rotation to more durum wheat this year. Durum has actually been the best performing crop on his farm the past couple of years. But the markets aren’t co-operating for it either.

“It seems like everyone in the world is mad at Canada and doesn’t want our crops,” says Gust. “There seems to be so many marketing issues with several different countries.”

He says even though Italy needs Canadian durum, processors don’t want to pay for it. “The Italians seem to be mad at us for some reason,” he says. “I have bins full of a perfect No. 1 crop of durum from 2018, but they don’t want to offer a reasonable price. Unfortunately, it may end up going into the feed market, but I’d rather take the hit and help out a Canadian cowboy than a pasta maker in Italy.”

Overall Gust says he remains optimistic, noting he was born and raised in “next-year country. There is still time for the 2019 crop to be at least close to average, but we just have to wait and see,” he says.

Dennis Reimer, Hudson Bay, Sask.

Dennis Reimer was feeling better the last week of June than he was a few days earlier. About 1-1/2 inches of rain the weekend of June 22 helped crops on his Hudson Bay area farm about 350 km northeast of Saskatoon.

“We were getting pretty dry here,” says Reimer. “Dry for us doesn’t mean the same as dry means in other parts of the province, but the crops were needing moisture. What we got on the weekend was a real godsend.”

Reimer’s rotation includes wheat, barley, oats, canola and faba beans. Due to canola market concerns he did back off on canola acres for 2019. “We had been pushing canola pretty hard, with about half our seeded acres in canola. This year it is more like one-third.”

After trying faba beans on the farm in 2018, he included them in rotation again this year.

“We seeded about the usual time, and emergence was generally quite even,” says Reimer. “And we haven’t had any issues with crop pests. Our biggest concern now might be an early frost. Last year we had about 500 acres that got nailed by an early frost. Hopefully, we don’t have a repeat of that this fall.”

Dustin Williams, Carman, Man.

Dustin Williams had a qualified “our area is looking okay” description of crops in the Carman area about 85 kilometres southwest of Winnipeg.

After a fairly dry spring, “we have been seeing some rain the past couple weeks,” says Williams. “We’re not out of the woods yet, but at the moment we are sitting pretty comfortable.”

The season got off to a challenging start. Seeding was early, crops struggled with cold weather and when they did get growing he was faced with spraying to control flea beetles and cutworms. “The rain has helped pick things up, crops are looking much better. The rain was needed.”

Williams is growing canola, wheat, oats, soybeans and feed barley this year. He has grown grain corn in recent years but dropped it out of rotation for 2019. With concerns about the market outlook for commodity canola, he opted for a Nexera canola contract this year. “We usually grow Invigor varieties, but with Nexera at least we can lock in a bit of a price premium,” he says.

“Things are looking okay at the moment, but the crop is still a long ways from the bin,” he says. “And there also seems to be quite a bit of market uncertainty out there. The trade issues and risk of tariffs still make me a bit nervous. We’ll have to see how it goes.”

Kendall Heise, Beulah, Man.

After a rough start with a cold, dry spring, Kendall Heise says crops are looking much better following about three inches of rain in late June.

With many farmers starting seeding in late April in the Beulah area of central Manitoba, about 130 km north of Brandon, emergence was slow and patchy. “A lot of people had to do spraying for flea beetle on canola and as well as cutworms in wheat,” says Heise. “I waited to seed canola on May 13 and only had to spray the crop once.”

As of late June, producers were finishing up in-crop spraying, most cereals were in the flag leaf stage, and canola would soon be bolting. Aside from crop germination, one of the other issues of a cooler spring was a delay in weed emergence, which also affected the timing of herbicide treatments.

Heise, who produces wheat, canola, soybeans and peas, says he stayed with his usual rotation with no major shift in acres. “There seemed to be a lot of talk about outside market influences, but I don’t know if it really had an impact or not,” he says. “I was still able to lock in a price of $10 or more for canola, which I’m happy with.”

irrigated canola

Canola on the left side of this photo is growing on Gerrid Gust’s irrigated land at Davidson, Sask. The land on the right is not irrigated. In the middle is canola on wheat stubble; the right side is canola on soybean stubble. Gust says it’s “the good, the bad and the ugly.”
photo: Gerrid Gust

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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