Recent mild spell seen hurting Prairie winter wheat

(Michael Thompson photo courtesy ARS/USDA)

CNS Canada — Recent milder weather seen in Western Canada was unfavourable for winter wheat crops and has left the crops more vulnerable to winterkill.

“The major impact is that it melted some of the snow cover that the winter wheat had, and in a lot of cases now some of those fields are bare,” said Bruce Burnett, crop and weather specialist with CWB in Winnipeg.

Burnett said the warmer weather wouldn’t have brought any crops out of dormancy, which is good.

The lack of snow cover hasn’t been a problem yet, but “certainly before the next big cold snap that we have we’re going to need to see some more snowfall and get the wheat protected again.”

Environment Canada calls for a 40 per cent chance of snow in southern Manitoba on Friday, and 30 per cent chance of snow in Alberta and Saskatchewan on Wednesday. If there’s enough snow, the crops should be safe.

“We don’t need that much snow; just a couple of inches over the tops of the fields are usually adequate, as long as it’s distributed evenly over the fields,” Burnett said. “But the more snow the better is usually the case with the winter wheat.”

Recent warmer weather may have also caused icing in some regions, which could cause some mechanical damage, he noted. But because many areas had fairly dry soil conditions this fall, the damage could’ve been worse.

“In most cases, the soils were quite dry so the water would’ve been absorbed into the soil where temperatures were warm enough, so I wouldn’t expect that as much as in a year when we had a very wet fall,” Burnett said.

“But there will be some areas out in western Manitoba, eastern Saskatchewan, some of those areas where the soils were maybe a bit wetter; we could see some damage from the icing.”

Farmers will have to wait and see what impact the milder weather had on the crops, but it could be significant if winterkill levels are higher than normal.

“Because the (seeded) area is so low, if we have higher-than-normal levels of winter kill, then that would bring down the winter wheat production quite significantly,” Burnett said.

Statistics Canada said 1.36 million acres of winter wheat were seeded in the fall of 2014, with 665,000 acres in Manitoba, Alberta and Saskatchewan. That’s down from the 2.03 million seeded in the fall of 2013 across Canada, with 1.13 million in Western Canada.

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


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