Drought unlikely for Prairie crops, rain to delay harvest

The likelihood of a drought developing over Western Canada’s grain and oilseed crops this summer is seen as unlikely because timely precipitation — sometimes in excess — is anticipated.

In fact, according to a U.S.-based weather forecaster, the longer-range outlooks suggest rains during the summer could end up stalling the harvest in the fall.

Drew Lerner, meteorologist with World Weather Inc. at Overland Park, Kansas, believes there won’t be much change on the Canadian Prairies from recent wet weather patterns. He expects heavy precipitation to occur for most of the summer.

Lerner expected mild temperatures and high precipitation to benefit crop growth. Even the looming El Nino, Lerner said, would only reinforce that mild and wet forecast for Western Canada.

"I think that El Nino will perpetuate some of the moisture and coolness around. That’s all [the Prairies] really get out of El Nino," he said. "El Nino will not kick in soon enough to have a huge play on this year’s production."

The only exception, according to Lerner, could be the Peace River region in northwestern Alberta, where conditions were dry for the majority of May. He said there could be a decline in soil moisture, but it "shouldn’t be a big deal."

When it comes time to harvest, Lerner is expecting more rain and slightly fewer degree days than normal. Crops could need more warmth and less precipitation than forecasted to be harvested on time.

"The harvest [on the Prairies] will probably be a little bit slow getting started. I would be concerned about it, but I don’t think it’s going to end up turning out so terribly bad," Lerner said.

"Most likely, we’ll dry down before we have a serious problem on our hands, but the first few weeks of the harvest will probably still be wet and cool. So there is a potential for quality issues."

Bruce Burnett, director of weather and market analysis for the CWB in Winnipeg, said the harvest times for the various crops will vary greatly anyway, given the staggered planting schedule seen this spring.

"The one thing we have going for us this year is that we do have a portion of the crops planted relatively early," he said. He also said crops planted earlier "should generally be harvested earlier as well, which tends to be a positive factor in terms of eventual crop quality."

Lerner said he’s still doing preliminary research, but has no reason to see a freeze date during the month of August.

Last year, the harvest ended with high temperatures and dry conditions. Although this year will be more cool and wet, there aren’t any major warning signs for the time being, Lerner said.

— Ryan Kessler writes for Commodity News Service Canada, a Winnipeg company specializing in grain and commodity market reporting.

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