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Les Henry: Prairie soil moisture map for 2020

Soil moisture at freeze-up in 2019: a range of moisture across the Prairies

The 2019 crop year was a challenge for all involved in our industry. The erratic rainfall patterns also challenged the preparation of this soil moisture map.

Let me first acknowledge the assistance of staff from Crop Intelligence by South Country Equipment. They have now had several years of experience installing weather stations accompanied by the soil moisture probes that continuously monitor the soil moisture status to a depth of one metre. That has indeed been a game-changer.

It was my great delight to recently read about a farmer using South Country Equipment’s service. He has quickly concluded that “water in the ground is like money in the bank.” I have waited a long time to see younger, smarter, tech savvy kids come along and apply the principals I have been preaching for decades. It is a great thrill.

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They can take a cell phone and monitor any of their soil moisture probes from anywhere at anytime. The output is a graph of the moisture content in real time of each soil layer. It is very easy to follow the roots as they suck away at the available soil moisture. When a rain comes along, the probes provide a record of how far that rain penetrated in the soil.

In the process, they are expanding our knowledge about soil moisture use by various crops under various situations, and all of this at the level of practical farms. With permission from selected farm clients they have generously supplied me with information that assisted greatly in preparing this general map.

The 2019 map

I must remind readers that this is just the general pattern, so we can see the big picture (image at top of page). It is useful to compare this year to previous years (see at bottom) as a base to start the 2020 crop planning.

For example, a quick look shows that southeast Saskatchewan and most of Manitoba will begin the 2020 season with adequate moisture — some areas to excess. With our current zero till drills, seeding directly into previous crop residue, germination should not be a problem and there will be no urgency for rain.

The Super Wet areas of southern Manitoba will have sloughs full of water and local high-water tables that will affect access with seeding equipment.

The lines separating the Wet from Super Wet are fuzzy at best. It should be noted that local areas of troublesome water table levels will also occur in the Wet map areas.

Areas in the Very Dry or Dry category will need timely rains early to ensure normal crop development.

As the utilization of in-crop soil moisture probes expands, it is rapidly changing to a situation where individual farm fields can be managed based on specific soil moisture measurements in those fields. That is the goal that I set way back in 1978, when the first Stubble Soil Moisture Map was made. That is a long time to wait but I am delighted that young kids, talented with the new technology can do exactly what is needed. Thanks kids and thanks for your help in making this map.

Graphic: Base map courtesy Andrew Nadler, PEAK HydroMet Solutions.

About the author

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Les Henry

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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