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Formerly parched grain now fighting moisture after September rains

2017 will be remembered as a dry year, but the latest harvest is still fighting high moisture 
after a series of rains in September

Manitoba’s early harvest was dry, but now a rash of rains has left producers fighting moisture and wondering when to give up on drying in the field.

Francois Labelle, general manager for the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, said most grain being harvested is several percentage points above safe storage since the dry spell broke.

“The beans aren’t drying down and we haven’t had much drying weather, so there seems to be more concern about that,” he said. “Even compared to last year when we actually had a fairly wet fall, most of the beans seemed to have come off on a better moisture condition last year.”

The situation has left some farmers in limbo, wondering whether it would be best to hold off on harvest or bring it in to dry in the yard.

It’s a target that Dr. Digvir Jayas, a Distinguished Professor at the University of Manitoba and former Canada Research Chair in Stored-Grain Ecosystems, said might be difficult to pin down.

Leaving the crop in the field might be beneficial, he said, but only if the farmer could be assured of good drying conditions for the next week to 10 days.

“But we don’t know if that’ll be the case,” he said. “I think it would depend more on what is the possible weather forecast because, with the cool temperature, really, there is not much drying happening in the field.”

Cool air has a low drying capacity, he said, although plant matter may warm if the sun is shining and speed drying.

“Better would be is if they had the capability to dry the grain,” he said. “I would bring it in and then dry it using ambient air — hopefully the moisture is close enough to the safest storing (level) that they can dry using ambient air — or dry using low temperature,” he said, noting that high-temperature drying is a particular challenge in soybeans.

Drying pulses quickly at high temperatures may cause seed to crack, the Canadian Grain Commission warns.

Farmers should also weigh the risks when deciding if ambient air drying will be enough, Joy Agnew, Agricultural Research Services project manager with the Prairie Agriculture Machinery Institute, said. Fan capacity, grain moisture and weather should all be taken into account.

“There’s a lot of factors that play a role,” she said. “The really rough rule of thumb for this time of year is if it’s more than two or three per cent above dry, consider a hotter dryer or consider supplemental heating with a natural air drying system.”

The Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers is urging producers to monitor tough crops even after drying and to prioritize wetter crops when monitoring in the bin.

“In their marking they should be making sure they talk to their buyers as well about higher-moisture beans, whether they’re accepting them or not,” Labelle said.

Dramatic switch

Pulse growers’ concerns are echoed in the few canola acres left to harvest.

Unharvested acres are largely in southwest Manitoba west of Highway 10, according to Angela Brackenreed, agronomy specialist with the Canola Council of Canada.

“It’s a challenging time of year to harvest, because days are a lot shorter,” she said. “There tends to be a heavier dew, so it takes some time to be able to get started at the beginning of the day and then that day is cut short when the sun goes down and conditions get challenging.”

Some extra moisture might actually be good news for remaining canola, which has seen an abnormally dry growing season, she added.

Earlier harvest was “unprecedentedly dry” when it reached the bin and moisture reportedly hit four or five per cent on a regular basis, Brackenreed said.

In a crop where moisture can reach 10 per cent at delivery, those levels raised worry over lost weight and yield and cracked grain at harvest.

“It was a fairly strange fall early on where it was very, very dry and quite warm, so we had really rapid dry-down of the seed and plant material,” Brackenreed said. “I think it caught people by surprise a little bit. Not to say that nobody started at higher moistures of eight, 10 per cent, but it dropped really quick.”

Pulse growers, likewise, have fought both sides of the spectrum this year, with extremely dry conditions prior to the September rains.

“I know the seed growers and so on would be concerned about that because it could have an effect on germination,” Labelle said.

Cereals OK

The dry conditions posed no threat to the cereal harvest, Pam de Rocquigny, general manager for the Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers, said.

“In terms of wheat and barley, I think a lot of producers have their crop in the bin, so obviously at this point we definitely encourage them to keep an eye on it throughout the winter in terms of making sure what they’ve put in the bin is going to maintain its quality,” she said.

Corn, however, is expected to fight wet conditions.

De Rocquigny, also general manager for the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, said corn is sitting at between 20 to 30 per cent moisture, although harvest has not begun in earnest.

“Corn never dries down to safe storage moisture levels out in the field, so it typically requires artificial drying to get it to those safe storage moisture levels,” she said.

The Manitoba Corn Growers ranges dry-down in October between 0.5 and 0.75 per cent per day, depending on weather, down from 0.75 to one per cent the month before. By late October, the group expects dry-down to drop below 0.33 per cent per day.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford is a journalist and photographer with the Manitoba Co-operator. She previously reported with the Morden Times and was news editor of  campus newspaper, The Omega, at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, BC. She grew up on a mixed farm near Miami, Man.

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