It’s official. Many Manitoba yield records were broken in 2017, despite a drier-than-normal growing season.
That’s what crop insurance data collected by the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) show.
The information is in Yield Manitoba 2018, a supplement to this week’s Manitoba Co-operator.
Of the 13 insured crops Yield Manitoba tracks for annual comparisons, eight — Argentine canola, red spring wheat, feed wheat, oats, field peas, non-oil and oil sunflowers — set new provincial yield records, and one — barley — tied the previous record.
“It’s a testimony to our ability to produce more,” Bruce Burnett, Glacier FarmMedia’s director of markets and weather, said in a recent interview.
Burnett knew Manitoba farmers, on average, reaped another bumper crop last fall, but like other observers, he’s surprised there were so many new records.
Unfortunately, not all farmers enjoyed a bountiful year. Growers around The Pas had a disastrous growing season. Thousands of acres were too wet to seed and the few acres that did get sown and harvested yielded below average.
Still, not only were a number of new provincial yield records broken, some were smashed.
For example, Argentine canola averaged 47 bushels an acre across Manitoba, 13 per cent more than the previous record set in 2013.
Oat yields, which averaged 121 bushels an acre, were also 13 per cent above the previous record.
Red spring wheat, and field peas exceeded their records by eight per cent.
Check the tables in Yield Manitoba 2018 to see which municipalities and varieties had the highest yields.
“In Manitoba we had enough moisture to get the crop off to a start and stands were established,” Burnett said. “Obviously they tapped into that subsoil reserve and came through the year very well.”
However, based on the 34 bushels an acre soybeans yielded province-wide, that crop needed more rain in late July and early August.
“The corn yields are the most surprising because it was hot and dry and they didn’t get a lot of moisture at filling so obviously corn plants were drawing into that reservoir of subsoil moisture,” he said.
The provincial corn yield was below last year’s record, but still well above the 10-year average.
Burnett also believes many crops did so well because of less disease.
“It makes me believe that disease management is likely the main limiting factor in our current production systems versus nutrient management and genetics,” he said.
“In terms of agronomics we’ve done an awful lot in the last 10 to 15 years in agriculture,” Burnett said. “We’ve got the nutrition done really well. We’ve got the genetics — they’ve obviously been exceptional in terms of the yield increases.”
MASC data also confirmed its earlier forecast that 2017 soybean plantings would, for the first time, exceed those of red spring wheat, the most widely grown type of wheat in Manitoba, to become the insured crop with the second-highest number of acres behind Argentine canola. However, when all insured acres of wheat are totalled wheat still exceeds soybean acres, but not by much.
Burnett has suspected the decline in Manitoba barley acres is due to a shift to more soybeans and corn. But he thinks feed wheat might be a factor too because it’s yielding as much as barley.
In 2017 feed wheat and barley averaged 80 and 83 bushels an acre, respectively. That was a new record for feed wheat and a tied record for barley.
The 10-year average for both is 65 bushels an acre.
Many farmers growing malting barley varieties hope to earn a premium by being selected for beer making.
“It’s usually a low-probability event,” Burnett said.
Barley has traditionally been a popular feed grain, especially for hogs, but increasingly that’s been a challenge because of fusarium head blight, a disease that can produce a toxin in barley harmful to livestock.
If toxin levels are too high for pigs Manitoba barley farmers may have to ship it to cattle feedlots in Alberta or the United States. Transportation costs cut into farmers’ returns.
“Wheat tends to have a little bit more resistance than barley, in terms of levels that are going to affect livestock performance,” he said.
Moreover, many high-yielding wheats in MASC’s feed wheat category, are suitable for milling if the protein content is high enough.
“There is that dual purpose aspect to it,” Burnett said. “You can make the argument barley is the same way, but it isn’t, because of that fact that your chances of getting accepted for malt are pretty remote in Manitoba as opposed to northern Saskatchewan, let’s say.”