Manitoba crop choices tied to flood timing

(Resource News International) — Producers in Manitoba’s Red River Valley planning on planting a crop this spring will be watching the flood forecast very carefully as any extended outlook will impact cropping choices, industry sources said.

“Weather conditions after the flood waters recede will also be very important in determining what producers in that area will put into the ground,” said Bruce Burnett, director of weather and crop surveillance for the Canadian Wheat Board.

Burnett said the timing of the flood is a bit earlier than it was during the comparable flood situation that was experienced during 1997, when much of southern Manitoba along the Red was underwater.

The amount of acres that would not likely be seeded because of flooding also was expected to be much lower than in the spring of 2005 when a combination of flood waters and heavy rains during June prevented 200,000 acres from being used and impacted over 1.5 million acres of cropland in Manitoba.

Roughly 200,000 to 400,000 acres of cropland in Manitoba on average experience flooding in the spring.

“Producers in 1997 were generally able to seed crops as they would normally, albeit a bit delayed,” he said. “The key to that was that the weather turned hot and dry and allowed for an optimal soil drydown that enabled producers to move heavy farm equipment onto the fields sooner rather than later.”

The ability to use that machinery allowed producers to work the fields and prepare them for seeding in a fairly timely manner, Burnett said.

With the flood occurring a bit earlier in 2009, that should allow producers some additional time to still work their fields even if the weather is not as favourable as it was in 1997, Burnett said. However, there are still concerns, as the weather outlook was calling for a wetter- and cooler-than-normal spring in the province.

“It is going to be more about the seeding conditions after the flood waters recede and what kind of weather conditions we get,” Burnett said.

He noted that a key difference between the 1997 flood and the one anticipated in 2009 is that advancements have been made in soybean varieties that producers could take advantage of over cereal grains.

“With the flooding there is likely to be some fairly aggressive switching of grains and into soybeans or another oilseed type of crop if we get into a late planting scenario,” Burnett said.

Soybeans do not necessarily have a shorter growing season, but are generally planted later, he said. The same with flaxseed, which is normally one of the last crops to go into the ground during seeding season.

“Producers generally try to plant cereal crops as early as they can in an effort to avoid diseases and pests, but the flooding may thwart those plans,” he said.

Burnett also felt that a lot of the producers in the Red River Valley now have the equipment to grow soybeans and that there has been a better familiarity with the crop now that quite a few have grown the crop previously.

Transportation corridor

The flooding that is anticipated in the province will also result in the temporary suspension of crop movement via train and truck, Burnett said.

“Certainly the rail lines and trucks that run into the U.S. will be vulnerable and will in all likelihood be shut down during the duration of the flood,” he said.

He acknowledged that the railroads and trucking companies are able to work around the closed Manitoba transportation corridor, but that could add on extra cost.

Burnett also noted that the CWB implemented a program early in March aimed at assisting more than 400 farmers who were in danger of losing CWB-accepted grain due to flooding.

“The CWB program is still ongoing,” Maureen Fitzhenry, CWB media relations manager, confirmed.

The CWB, she said, had been looking at a program of roughly 100,000 tonnes, of which three-quarters have been taken in from the potential flood area.

There were a lot of producers in the Red River Valley area who have taken steps over the past number of years to protect their farms and grain storage from flood waters either by building on high ground or through the creation of ring dikes, she added.

The program was designed to help the producers who don’t have that kind of protection and who were at risk.

According to the province’s latest flood forecast Friday, overland flooding continues in the Red River Valley, though the cold weather, which is expected to persist into next week, has turned flooded fields mostly into ice. Overland flooding will likely increase somewhat when snow melts and is expected to continue for two to three weeks, even with favourable weather.

“Many unknowns remain with respect to the effect of ice blockages on drains and ditches and on the timing and rate of melting of snow and ice on fields,” the province reported. “However, the probability of a major flood of 1997 proportions in the Manitoba portion of the Red River has further diminished and is now well below 10 per cent.”

Manitoba’s Red River Valley is unique, in that it is an extremely wide floodplain with significant grain storage.

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