Sky high demand for aerial sprayers after flood

A significant number of producers were calling in air strikes after 200 millimetres of rain kept their own sprayers out of the field

The same storms that put parts of Westman underwater early this month also had aerial applicators scrambling to keep up with demand.

Planes from Westman Aerial Spraying had little downtime in early July.

Barry Cooper, business to business operations manager with Heritage Co-op, says they have seen more demand than there are planes available to fly. Heritage Co-op recently purchased Westman Aerial Spraying and handles customer scheduling for the business.

Heritage Co-op’s custom ground spraying service has also seen an uptick, Cooper noted, although those rigs have run into the same issues as any producer attempting to get on the field.

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“We’re spraying some of them with floating tires,” he said. “It’s not pretty, but we’re getting stuff on for guys. Some of them are doing that themselves and then some of them just can’t get on, either because they can’t access the field by road or because they’ve got big cuts through the field (and) they’re not quite sure how they’re going to handle it yet.”

Storms June 28 to July 1 dropped well over 200 millimetres of rain in some regions of Westman, with some of the hardest hits felt around Rapid City and Rivers. Record flows along the Little Saskatchewan River led to dozens of evacuations, particularly downstream of the Rivers dam after the province announced that it no longer had confidence in the 60-year-old structure.

In the R.M. of Oakview, Reeve Brent Fortune estimated the municipality would be fixing over 100 washouts, 25 severe, due to the quick-rising floodwater.

Meanwhile, producers were left waiting for overland flooding to recede to assess crop damage. Low laying areas in the region were left under inches of standing water, and producers expected at least some crops would drown out.

Forrest, just north of Brandon and just southeast of Rivers, has since seen another 23 millimetres of rain between July 1-7, according to the province’s ag weather network.

Disease risk exploded in the week following the storms.

Much of Manitoba was at “high” to “extreme” risk for the fusarium head blight between July 3-7, according to provincial risk maps. In western Manitoba, the risk was particularly pointed. The western part of the province, especially regions close to the Saskatchewan border, rated “extreme” risk for much of the time July 3-7.

The weather has created “perfect conditions,” for a sudden uptick in fungicide demand, Cooper noted.

Ron Krahn, who farms near Rivers, is among the producers to switch his plans to aerial spraying.

“That was just solely because it was too wet to travel,” he said, although he has since restarted spraying herbicide on some fields with his own sprayer.

Severe washouts, where culverts have been washed entirely away and the road collapsed, have yet to see repairs in his area, he noted, although repairs have occurred on highways and areas where water ran over roads.

“I’m sure they’re focusing on higher priority or (washouts) that have maybe cut of people’s access to their yards or livestock,” he said.

There are five such severe washouts on roads he uses to access his fields, although those have not impacted his fungicide plans, since he opted for aerial spraying.

He does not have any fields without access, he said, “it’s just a much longer drive to get to the fields,” he said.

A representative from Western Canadian Aerial’s Minnedosa branch also said the business was “flat out,” and has had to bring in extra planes to meet demand.

“It’s just not stopping yet,” the representative said. “But, saying that, we’re keeping up.”

The company has, in general, noted busier seasons in the last few years, he added, something he credited to dry springs and the speed in which seeding occurred.

The wet weather has increased business, he said, although he also pointed to the number of people choosing aerial spray simply for the economic benefit of not tramping crop down in wheel tracks.

About the author

Reporter

Alexis Stockford

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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