Eastern Prairies’ snow good for winter wheat

(Resource News International) — Snow cover in the eastern regions of the Prairies has been adequate enough to prevent damage to those regions’ winter wheat crop, but regions in western areas are considered vulnerable.

“Considering that most of the winter wheat crop in Western Canada is grown in the provinces of Manitoba and the more easterly regions of Saskatchewan, the crop is in good shape, given the more-than-adequate snow cover levels,” said Bruce Burnett, director of the Canadian Wheat Board’s crop and weather surveillance department.

“The extreme cold temperatures the crop has had to endure so far is not believed to have caused any winterkill damage,” he said. However, in the more western areas, temperatures have been above normal and are a concern.

The further west one goes, Burnett said, the less snow cover there is for crops.

The warmer readings certainly can reduce the snow cover, leaving the crop vulnerable to freezing damage later, and can also cause icing.

“An ice layer can cause physical damage to the crop and also has a tendency to transmit the cold far more readily,” Burnett said.

Winter wheat in the southwestern region of Saskatchewan was at the greatest risk of suffering damage from the current warm readings and the outlooks calling for the return of extreme cold readings, Burnett said.

Jake Davidson, executive manager of Winter Cereals Canada, a winter cereals development organization at Minnedosa, Man., agreed that winter wheat crops in Western Canada remain in good shape.

“Our members have been monitoring their crops pretty closely and while the temperatures have been extremely cold, there has also been good snow cover,” he said.

But Davidson added that winter wheat in the areas of Western Canada where the snow cover was not as great, were also doing pretty good.

“There are areas in the southwest areas of Saskatchewan that generally don’t get a lot of snow, yet the producers in those areas continue to grow winter wheat,” Davidson said. “The producers in those regions still manage to harvest a decent crop each year and that is why they are willing to take their chances with the cold.”

Davidson also pointed out that producers in the Peace River region of northern Alberta, who saw their spring crops devastated by drought, turned to winter wheat.

“The area base in Alberta grew significantly in the fall, as producers in that area decided to take a chance on winter wheat,” he said, noting that the Peace River district is not a traditional winter wheat growing region.

Davidson said that seed dealers in Alberta ran out of winter wheat seed due to the demand for that crop from that region.

Statistics Canada estimated that seeded area to winter wheat in western Canada in the fall of 2008 totalled 1.37 million acres, of which 550,000 acres were planted in Manitoba, 550,000 in Saskatchewan and 270,000 in Alberta.

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