Many farmers across Western Canada are counting on October to be a decent harvest month after combines in many areas came to a screeching halt about mid-September as daily rain showers, snow flurries and in some cases snowfall terminated what had largely been a hot, dry summer.
But producers contacted in late September for this October Farmer Panel were taking the harvest delay in stride with an “it-is-what-it-is” attitude. A warm, dry September would have been nice, but this is what nature does.
Was the cool, wet September weather an aspect of climate change? Perhaps, but not likely, say farmers. In fact, producers contacted said being able to combine in September was more like an anomaly when they considered the “normal” long-term average. Most remembered, in harvest seasons past, September being an unsettled month, with October and November hosting more favourable harvest conditions.
According to provincial Agriculture Departments’ harvest-progress reports many producers in mid- to late September were still working on harvest. Manitoba producers had made the most progress with about 75 per cent of harvest complete; in Saskatchewan about 62 per cent was completed — most of that in the south; while in Alberta only about 30 per cent of the harvest was completed again with 65 per cent completed in the south with northern regions in the five to 10 per cent range.
All Farmer Panel participants noted planning is important to manage whatever the conditions might be, say producers. Including more early-maturing crops in rotations — such as pulses and winter cereals that can be combined in August or early September — helps spread out the harvest workload. And it was also suggested including grain corn or soybeans in rotation may help on the other end of the harvest season, as it can be more resilient to adverse weather.
And with a narrowing harvest window, having harvest capacity is an important consideration too, said some. They don’t want too much higher-capacity equipment sitting around, but at the same time it is important to pick up as many acres as they can in a day when conditions are favourable — have capacity so they “make hay when the sun shines.”
Here is what the October Farmer Panel members had to say about the 2018 weather and harvest:
Cory Loessin was using his time in late September to move binned crop around and set up a new grain dryer on the family farm near Radisson, Sask., northwest of Saskatoon. He had about one-third of his total crop harvested but had been shut down by weather since early September.
He was feeling fortunate. At least he had some of his crop off, but was aware in some parts of northwest Saskatchewan many producers had yet to turn a wheel.
Loessin says while it is a bit frustrating to be delayed, on the other hand it is par for the course.
“It’s hard to be sitting, but really it’s not all that unusual,” says Loessin. “In fact being able to get part of the crop combined in August or early September is probably more unusual for this part of the world.”
He recalls his dad buying the farm’s first grain dryer in 1968 with a similar fall — cool and wet. They didn’t get harvest done until November and had to dry all crops. “And it seems like just about every five years we have later and wetter harvest conditions when we need to use the grain dryer, so no I don’t think this is unusual.” The weather always goes in cycles.
He says many farmers are better able today to manage harvest season variables. On his farm for example, they still have a grain dryer, they also have more aeration bins which help dry and keep stored crops cool. He also plans to have earlier-maturing crops such as peas in rotation that are usually combined in late August, to help spread out the harvest workload.
“Years ago people grew Polish canola which was earlier maturing,” says Loessin. “And in fact, a lot of people have trended the other way.” In some areas, farmers used to grow more barley, now they have switched to wheat which generally needs a longer season. Putting on his former provincial Ag Department extension specialist hat for a minute — “A lot of producers have gone to primarily wheat/canola rotations, but in my opinion, it is a good management strategy to include some earlier crops in rotation to spread out the rotation as well as the harvest workload.”
On that one nice day in late September Doyle Wiebe was hoping he might be able to spend a few hours harvesting standing canola, but otherwise his harvest had been shut down for 2-½ weeks and the immediate forecast after that one nice day wasn’t particularly promising.
He felt fortunate to have about 50 per cent of his combining done — most of that was done in August. But he took the September delay in stride. “It’s not that out of the ordinary to have two or three weeks of poor weather in September,” says Wiebe, who crops grains, oilseeds and pulse crop near Langham, northwest of Saskatoon.
Most of his early-harvested acres were peas. Generally the yield and quality was “reasonable” although it varied quite a bit depending on growing season rainfall patterns.
He says while a number of factors go into planning crop rotations, part of the strategy involves including earlier-maturing crops, such as peas to help spread out both seeding and harvest workload. And particularly in years when the poor weather begins to narrow the harvest window he says it helps to have combine capacity. There are fewer combining hours in the day, so when the weather is favourable it is important to have as much capacity as possible to cover as many acres as possible and “make hay when the sun shines,” says Wiebe.
Krahn Agri Farms, Carman, Man.
Myron Krahn doesn’t want to sound like an old-timer, but he’s been farming enough years in Manitoba to not be alarmed by rain in September which delays harvest.
“It makes me sound like I’m old, but I’ve seen all this before,” says Krahn who along with family members runs a pedigreed seed and commercial crop farm near Carman, southwest of Winnipeg. “We started combining in August and for a while thought we were way ahead of schedule, and now we haven’t been able to do much in the last couple of weeks of September and maybe feeling a bit behind, but I’m not worried too much at this point. We’ve had dry summers before and we’ve had wet Septembers before.”
Krahn was able to combine about 60 per cent of his crop under “flawless” conditions in late August. Yields weren’t amazing but at the same time “better than I expected.”
Heading into October he had about 800 acres of grain corn and 2,000 acres of soybeans to combine. He knows the corn is quite weather safe and experience tells him that beans “can handle quite a bit too.”
Krahn says he’s not sure what the effects of climate change might be, but figures 2018 is just part of fairly normal weather cycles. “There’s a reason some of the old guys say what you don’t get in August you’ll get in October,” says Krahn.
In planning his crop rotation, he says his focus is on producing what he can grow best so his farm acres lean more toward corn and soybeans. “It doesn’t matter what the market says, we’re not going to grow 100 per cent of anything,” he says. “We definitely keep in mind growing both early and later crops as part of risk management.” As part of that risk management, he also relies on a grain dryer. “Not everybody dries their wheat, but if I have crop that is ready and harvest conditions are a bit tough, I’ll combine it and dry it just to preserve yield and quality,” he says. “The dryer is here, I might as well use it.”
Celebrating his 41st birthday on a rainy day in late September, with still about 50 per cent of his crop to harvest, reminded Dustin Williams that weather patterns do repeat themselves. He had been able to combine crops on his southwest Manitoba farm in late August and early September but weather had shut things down for a couple of weeks.
He was asked if he thought September weather delays were an indicator of climate change. That prompted the birthday story. “My mom always says the day I was born she got two sons,” says Williams. “She tells me the September of 1977 it rained just about every day until my birthday and that day I was born and the sun also came out — it was day of a son and sun. That year they did all their harvesting in October. And we’ve had wet Septembers since. I talk to some of the older guys around and they say this reminds them of the ’60s. So I think it is part of fairly normal weather cycles.”
Williams who crops wheat, canola, soybean and some corn says the September harvest delay does make him think about adjusting his crop rotation to spread out workload and risk. He has grown winter cereals and peas in the past that fit with early-season harvesting, and grain corn although it can have variable economics but does have good weather resilience later in the fall.
“So I want to get back to including a pulse or winter cereal in rotation and next year I plan to include more corn in my crop rotation,” he says.
September rains are just par for the course, says Doug McBain, a grain and oilseed producer near Cremona, northwest of Calgary.
“I remember many years when we didn’t turn a wheel in September,” says McBain, who had about 25 per cent of crop harvested in early September before he was shut down by the weather. “And then we would get a break and you’d combine everything in 10 days in October mostly working in the dark. So we had a few years when harvest was early and now maybe we are just getting back to the way things used to be.”
He’s not planning any changes in his crop rotation. While he hopes the weather straightens out soon, he figures there’s still a reasonable amount of time within “long-term weather parameters” to get the crop harvested.
One saving grace for many producers today is machinery capacity, he says. “Combines are just so much bigger than they used to be,” he says. “Yes, farms are bigger too, but you get a couple of nice days and guys with three or four of these big combines that can harvest a quarter section in the day and an awful lot of crop will come off in a very short time.”
While McBain only has part of his crop harvested, he is impressed with what he has seen so far considering a very dry summer. “Really it is amazing,” he says. “Yields are still in that 75-, to 80- to 90-bushel range, even with some hail damage. The hay crops took a hit — they are half to one-third or normal — but it is amazing how well the cereal crops did considering how little rain we had.”