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Rainfall prevents drought disaster

Now it’s up to timely rains to finish the job this season

It was probably at least a billion-dollar rain.

To the delight of many farmers, much of agro-Manitoba received badly needed precipitation between 1 a.m. July 8 and 7 a.m. July 10 Manitoba Agriculture’s weather stations show. (See map below)

While last week’s rains came too late to prevent yield loss in some fields, it stopped things from getting worse, Manitoba Agriculture oilseed specialist Dane Froese said in an interview July 11.

“This rain was just staving off complete destruction,” he said. “We really, really needed this rainfall in order to keep on with crop growth. Potential yield was declining day over day.

“Timely rains are going to be key to finish off this crop. We’re not expecting bin-buster yields.”

Froese added some areas might have some very good yields, but overall provincial yields will drop down from the previous two years. (See ‘Manitoba blessed’ at bottom)

“We’re probably going to be hitting those normal averages now. I don’t think we’re going to be above average now. We may even be slightly below.”

Why it matters: Manitoba farm gate revenue from crop production exceeded $4.1 billion in 2017, according to Manitoba Agriculture data. Those earnings are critical to not only the farmers who invest in producing those crops, but the larger provincial and federal economies.

Parts of the northwest received little or no rain last week, but many parts of the region had moisture earlier.

The Interlake, which had been missing the rains, received some, but parts of the region need much more, Froese said.

The rains’ impact will vary by crop and its condition.

“For fall rye and winter wheat and even spring cereals the yield and the size of the seed head was set way back when that crop was tillering and starting to joint,” Froese said. “However, rainfall now helps create a larger seed.

Soybeans ran out of moisture too in 2018, averaging 31.4 bushels an acre, down 15 per cent from the 10-year average of 36.

Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell who farms at Minto is one of the many farmers thankful for the rain, even though ideally it would have come sooner.

“It’s better than not getting rain,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised that in some areas the yields have been compromised now. Even if we have ideal weather and rainfall from here forward I’m not sure we’re going to get maximum yield. But saying that, the crop can compensate. There’s still a pretty good chance to have a pretty good crop.”

It’s still a long way from the bin. Crops that received decent rains last week will need more in a week or two. Some need rain now.

Many annual crops in the Interlake are thin and uneven, while first-cut hay yields there are half of normal, Froese said, adding some fields weren’t cut because they were so poor.

Second-cut hay and pastures will benefit where the rain fell, but pastures will still need good management, Campbell said.

Canola OK?

Most canola crops will benefit from last week’s rains too because they were in the early reproductive stage, Canola Council of Canada agronomist Angela Brackenreed said in an interview July 11.

“I won’t say there wasn’t an impact from some of the drought conditions because I think there probably was, but it’s not like we’re fully podded yet,” she said.

The rains have some farmers wondering about spraying canola with a fungicide to control sclerotinia, a potentially devastating fungus disease.

Many farmers who normally plan to spray wrestled with it this year because the risk is lower because it was dry and/or because their crop was poor already. Now Brackenreed is getting calls from farmers wondering what to do.

“It typically takes three weeks of good moisture in the top couple of inches in the soil for sclerotia germination and then spore production,” she said. “So where are we going to be at in three weeks? Each individual producer needs to look at that.

“In a lot of cases that canola won’t be flowering anymore.”

If the field didn’t have spores before the rain and if flower petals are mostly gone in three weeks, the risk of infection is reduced, Brackenreed said. Sclerotinia spores infect fallen petals caught in branch crotches and then infect the plant.

Heavy rain can also drown apothecia (spore-producing bodies) and wash spores off of plants, but there’s no easy way to know if that has happened, she added.

“This rain was just staving off complete destruction. We really, really needed this rainfall in order to keep on with crop growth. Potential yield was declining day over day.” – Dane Froese
photo: Robert Wichers

On average, Manitoba farmers have harvested six bumper crops in a row, with yields exceeding the 10-year average, crop insurance data shows.

The last two came despite a drier-than-normal growing season — a pleasant surprise.

In fact, in 2017 yield records were set for seven major crops, including canola and red spring wheat.

Last year oil and confectionery sunflowers were the only major crops to set new average provincial yield records, but 10 major crops, including canola and red spring wheat, yielded above the 10-year average.

Although both growing seasons were dry, soil moisture reserves were higher in spring than this year. That, combined with timely rains, made all the difference.

This spring soils were drier and temperatures cooler resulting in poor germination in some fields. Frost set some crops crops back or led to reseeding.

Flea beetles, cutworms and grasshoppers added to crop stress.

“For things that are a little bit less determinant like canola, soybeans and corn we still have very good yield potential for those three crops.”

Manitoba Corn Growers Association agronomist Morgan Cott agrees.

“The timing is excellent because we’re not at reproduction yet,” she said in an interview July 11. “We still have several leaves to go.

“Some fields were definitely looking drought stressed.”

Manitoba’s corn crop is behind because of a cool spring, but it may seem worse because corn was so much more advanced by this time last year, Cott said.

The old saying is corn should be knee-high by the 1st of July. Last year many crops were shoulder-high. But by mid-July some cornfields ran out of moisture. While the provincial average yield of 121 bushels an acre was down 10 per cent from 133 bushels in 2018, it matched the 10-year average, crop insurance data from the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation shows.


Manitoba blessed with a string of bumper crops

On average, Manitoba farmers have harvested six bumper crops in a row, with yields exceeding the 10-year average, crop insurance data shows.

The last two — 2017 and 2018 — came despite a drier-than-normal growing season. It was a pleasant surprise for farmers.

In fact, in 2017 yield records were set for seven major crops, including canola and red spring wheat.

Last year oil and confectionery sun- flowers were the only major crops to set new average provincial yield records, but 10 major crops, including canola and red spring wheat, yielded above the 10-year average.

Although both growing seasons were dry, spring soil moisture reserves were higher than this year.

That, combined with timely rains, made all the difference.

This spring soils were drier and temperatures cooler resulting in poor germination in some fields.

Frost set some crops back or led to reseeding.

Flea beetles, cutworms and grasshoppers added to crop stress.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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