Crop Quality A Weather Casualty – for Sep. 16, 2010

Hurricane Earl received a lot of news attention as it slammed into the Maritime provinces. Not to minimize the power outages and the damage from fallen trees, but the wet weather in Saskatchewan last week is probably causing a lot greater dollar damage than what Earl inflicted.

While it isn’t an impressive photo opportunity like a hurricane, big rains at harvest time are costly to crops in both lost production and lost quality.

Some fields have been flattened by the heavy rain, which will make harvest difficult and slow. There can be a significant amount of crop that you just can’t scoop off the wet ground.

This is particularly true of lentils, which are a low-growing crop to start with. Growers are employing all sorts of harvest technology to salvage as much as possible.

Lentil crops that are ripe or nearly ripe are also suffering huge quality losses from sprouting, bleaching and disease. A lentil crop that falls from a No. 1 grade down to a No. 3 can easily be downgraded in value by $100 or even $150 an acre. Apply that across a couple million acres and the losses rapidly mount.

Wheat, durum, barley and peas are also suffering wet weather quality losses. The rain shouldn’t hurt canola or flax.

In fairness, it isn’t just this week’s rainfall causing problems.

The growing season is officially April 1 to Aug. 31. Over those months, there was record-high precipitation on about 40 per cent of the Saskatchewan grain belt. This record spills over into the east-central region of Alberta and some northern parts of the Manitoba grain belt.

According to the maps published by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the entire Saskatchewan grain belt had above-normal growing season precipitation. In the Prairies as a whole, the only area below normal is the Peace River region of Alberta.

Most of the Prairies exceeded normal growing season precipitation by more than 120 millimetres – nearly five inches. Most parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba received over 400 mm. That’s over 16 inches. Many areas are over 18 inches, some are over 20 and a few are actually at 30 inches or more.

CARTS IN DEMAND

While there’s some joy in the traditionally dry regions over the recharge of ground and surface water, areas that typically have ample moisture wonder when their sloughs and lakes will ever recede.

A prime example is the region around Humboldt, Sask., where municipalities are actually fighting with the Federal Department of Fisheries over unwanted water that’s flooding farm fields.

Producers are preparing to tow out combines. Grain carts are expensive, but in high demand because trucks will have difficulty navigating the soft fields.

And everyone is looking ahead to the disaster that could be coming next spring. Given even a normal amount of snow over the winter, where is all the water going to go when the soil is already saturated?

But the immediate problem is this year’s harvest. Production is going to take a big hit due to unseeded land and flooded crop. Now the quality is being eroded by one wet weather system after another.

Looking on the bright side, at least there haven’t been any major early frosts. Unfortunately, the wet, cool weather is further delaying crop maturity, keeping later-maturing crops at risk of frost damage.

It has the makings of a long, difficult harvest. Unfortunately, for many producers all the effort will yield disappointing results.

– Kevin Hursh is a consulting agrologist and farmer based in

Saskatoon. He can be reached at [email protected]

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