While most city folk are looking forward to a warm, sunny long weekend, many Manitoba farmers are praying for rain.
In the meantime, farmers should avoid the temptation to seed deeply to reach moisture, according to Lionel Kaskiw, a Manitoba Department of Agriculture (MDA) farm production advisor based in Souris.
‘I still think if you can lay oilseeds (canola and flax) in about inch it’s maybe a little bit above the layer where the moisture is, but it won’t take much for the two levels to meet if we get a decent rain,” Kaskiw said in an interview Wednesday. “Then it will be up and take off fast.
“Trying to sink it into the moisture is always risky… (because) a seed may not have have enough energy to get to the soil surface. That is when we’ll get some really spotty crops.
“If we don’t get rain you won’t have to worry about it.”
As of Wednesday, Environment Canada was predicting a 30 per cent chance of showers in the Brandon area for Sunday (May 22) and a 60 per cent chance for Miami Monday (May 23).
There’s a better chance southern Manitoba could get 1/2 to one inch of rain around June 1, according to U.S. weather models, Kaskiw said.
“As long as we can you get it in the next two weeks it would be definitely beneficial,” he said. “Some areas are still not too bad. I was talking to a producer in the Birtle area and he is seeding right into moisture. So it depends a bit on where are you are.”
MDA weather records show parts of the Manitoba’s northwest and Interlake had near-normal to above-normal rainfall since May 1. Gilbert Plains and Roblin, for example, as of May 15 had 227 and 115 per cent of average rainfall, having received 50 and 31 millimetres, respectively.
However, both regions have a number of stations reporting below-average rainfall.
It’s even drier in the central, eastern and southwest regions, the data show. For example, since May 1 Winkler has received just one millimetre of rain, or five per cent of average. Morden, Gretna, Elm Creek, Carman and Pilot Mound aren’t much better at seven, eight, nine, 11 and 12 per cent respectively.
Not only are many places dry, but most stations across agro-Manitoba are also reporting warmer than average temperatures — some well above normal.
For example, Drifting River, north of Gilbert Plains, has recorded 147 per cent of normal corn heats units so far, while Arborg and Gladstone are 135 and 131 per cent of average.
Lower than normal snowfall, followed by high winds, helped to dry the topsoil in many Manitoba fields. The result has been spotty germination in some fields, which makes it hard to control weeds and to harvest because plants will be at different stages, Kaskiw said.
“We had those days with 60- to 70-km/h winds that dried out the soil to where you disturbed it,” he said. “And we just haven’t had much rain since so some of those areas are just getting too dry. Some spots to the south (of Souris) here guys stopped seeding a week ago because it was just too dry already.”
The good news is, several years of wet conditions has resulted in adequate subsoil moisture in many areas.
“If we can get this crop germinated and the roots going down they will get into moisture,” Kaskiw said. “I really think even if it is a dry year, on average, we will still get an average crop because of the subsoil moisture we have in reserve. It’s just to get it germinated and get a growing, That’s the big thing.
“Most people I talk to say you don’t have to go down very deep and there is moisture there.”
Scout for pests
While checking on seed germination, Kaskiw has come across some pests, including wireworms, which feed on cereal seedings, and dingy cutworms that feed on seedling leaves.
“Wireworms are out there but I don’t think they are too severe,” Kaskiw said during the CropTalk Westman webinar on Wednesday. “Usually we don’t see a lot of damage unless the numbers are really high.”
Farmers should be scouting for flea beetles in canola now too, he said. With dry conditions and spotty germination the insects could swarm canola plants overwhelming their insecticidal seed treatments.
“That’s something to be watching for… because they could do a lot of damage to the plants that are up,” he said. “They could do more damage then the plants can handle.
“Now is a good time to be watching because they are all out and the canola is just going to be nicely coming up and it will definitely be in a vulnerable stage during the first week or so as it comes through the ground.”
Some farmers may regret having not done a pre-seed weed burnoff this spring, Kaskiw said. Weeds started slowly but winter annuals are starting to flower and set seed now, he said.
“You will be kicking yourself later on if you don’t do the burnoff, because when it comes time for in crop (weed) control the things are going to be huge and the expense of controlling them will be a lot more,” he said.
Kaskiw said he has seen some yellowing winter wheat and believes it’s because there hasn’t been enough rain to get spring-applied nitrogen into the root zone where the plants can use it.