McMillan: Heat pushes Prairie crop development forward

Given the delays around seeding that stirred up fears of an early fall frost, many have said Canada’s Prairie crops needed a repeat of 2010 — in which a cool, wet slow growing season led into a September hotter than July or August.

Prairie farmers have been blessed with hot and dry conditions over the past week, in which the bulk of the region saw daytime highs in the low to mid-30s C. Even further north, temperatures were in the high twenties.

The past week was also noteworthy for its lack of rain. Data from WeatherFarm shows the majority of the Prairies saw no rain over the previous week. In those areas that did receive rain, it was generally light. The heaviest rain was in Manitoba’s southeast and Saskatchewan’s northwest, where 15-25 mm of rain fell.

The warm, dry temperatures have spurred crop development and maturation and across the Prairies, farmers are now either in the field with early harvest activities or readying for the anticipated harvest. Harvest is certainly later than in 2012, but is expected to run closer to normal with the current weather.

In Manitoba, harvest has progressed the furthest in eastern and central regions and has started in the province’s southwest.

Manitoba’s winter wheat and fall rye harvest ranges from mostly complete in the east to 10 per cent in the west. Spring wheat, oats, barley, peas and canola harvesting have started across the province with above-average yields and good quality reported.

Late last week, the Saskatchewan government reported four per cent of the crop was swathed or ready to straight-combine, compared to nine per cent harvested at this time normally. Harvest is also active in Alberta with winter cereals, peas being the most advanced, and good progress made on spring cereals and early canola.

Hot, dry conditions extended into the U.S. northern Plains and upper Midwest — and although the weather has eased concerns in Canada, it has had the exact opposite effect in the U.S. Temperatures climbed into the triple digits (F) in South Dakota.

Normally hot and dry weather at this time in that region of the U.S. would have little impact on the crops or markets. This year is different: because of the delays in seeding and maturation, many corn and soybean crops are still at a growth stage vulnerable to yield losses. As a result, futures markets for soybeans, corn and wheat all climbed higher late last week following declines over the previous seven days.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) has released crop progress up to Aug. 25, highlighting developmental delays in all crops across the U.S. Nearly all states were behind in corn development, but the state with the greatest difference from normal was the state with the most eyes on it. Iowa is now 31 percentage points behind normal for corn development. Not even half the crop has reached dough stage yet, compared to over three quarters normally.

In neighbouring Minnesota and Wisconsin, corn delays were slightly less, but still enough to raise concern with market participants. Delays in soybeans are not as pronounced as other crops, but soybean yield is more vulnerable to adverse weather at this point. Soybean prices have gained the most during the current weather scare.

Fortunately for Western Canada’s farmers, the above-normal temperatures are forecast to remain 2-4 C above normal. Environment Canada’s forecasts indicate the warmest temperatures happening in the eastern Prairies. Forecasts are for mostly dry weather until the middle of the week where rain is expected to return.

Western Canadian farmers may have a rare combination: cool and moist early-season weather that propelled yield forecasts higher and higher, dry and warm weather for harvest, and rising prices brought on by adverse weather in other parts of North America.

— Stuart McMillan writes from Winnipeg on weather and agronomic issues affecting Prairie farmers.

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