Despite a drier-than-normal growing season some Manitoba farmers are surprised — and delighted — by better-than-expected yields.
“I figured my wheat would do 50 or 60 (bushels an acre) and then a month went by and I felt it might do a little bit better than that,” Starbuck farmer Chuck Fossay said in an interview Aug. 31. “We’re doing my wheat field right now and I think it will be somewhere between 75 and 80 (bushels an acre).”
However, earlier Fossay harvested a 240-acre field of AAC Brandon, a Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat that averaged 89.9 bushels an acre. That rivals the typical yields of American wheats in the new Canada Northern Hard Red wheat class, as well as winter wheats.
The 10-year-average yield for CWRS wheat in Manitoba is 48 bushels an acre, according to crop insurance data. The record provincial average CWRS yield of 61 bushels an acre was set in 2013.
Dry harvest weather, and below-normal rainfall during the growing season, has resulted in good-quality crop so far.
And some farmers were also able to lock in attractive wheat prices, which rose until the end of July, but have fallen since.
Fossay sold some wheat at $9.60 a bushel, but said last week the elevator price was around $6.70.
“I think the average price this year (for CWRS wheat) is in the $7.50 range,” he said.
Pam de Rocquigny, general manager of the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association, has heard about bumper wheat yields too.
“The yields that have been reported so far are definitely strong and that’s great,” she said.
Last week Manitoba Agriculture was reporting spring wheat yields of 50 to 95 bushels an acre, barley at 75 to 120, oats ranging from 100 to 180, field peas at 50 to 90 and canola going from 40 to 60 bushels an acre.
Fossay, who is president of the Manitoba Canola Growers Association, finished harvesting canola last week. His yields varied, with the highest being 66 bushels in a short swath, he said.
“Most of the fields were yielding in the low to mid-50s so I think we’ll see by the time we ship everything out 54 bushels an acre across the whole farm,” Fossay said. “Our long-term average is probably 40 to 42 bushels an acre.”
The provincial 10-year average is 36. The provincial record set in 2013 is 43.
Fossay estimates the one oat field he harvested yielded around 140 bushels an acre, but said his neighbours were getting 150 to 200 bushels an acre.
While growing degree days across agro-Manitoba have been just shy of normal, according to data collected by Manitoba Agriculture’s weather stations, rainfall has been well below the 30-year average. Only a handful of stations have had 100 per cent or more of normal precipitation since May 1, with many at 60 per cent or less.
One of the driest stations is Emerson, which as of Aug. 28 received 104 mm of rain or just 35 per cent of normal.
So what’s behind bigger-than-expected yields so far this harvest?
“Even though we didn’t have any real rainfall in April and May there was lots of moisture in the soil,” following a wet fall, Fossay said. “The plants put down some deep roots and we had some very cool nights, which I think allowed the plants to recover from the daytime heat. The roots went down. They found some extra nutrients and they were able to get enough moisture out of the ground with the cool nights… and of course (with it being dry) there was very little disease pressure.”
Although harvest is more advanced in the Red River Valley, Fossay says from what he’s heard from other farmers, good yields are also in the cards for other regions of the province.
“It may not be as big as what we are seeing here in the valley, but I think it’s generally going to be pretty good for most people,” he said.
The exception, however, is likely to be soybeans. They need moisture in August to boost yields and many fields didn’t get it, he said.
“I think if we get 30 to 32 bushels an acre we’ll be doing good,” Fossay said. “I don’t really see any big bean yields this year.”
Rain now will still help corn yields, said de Rocquigny, who is also general manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association.
“It’s still at the grain-filling stage and it would definitely help,” she said.