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Winter cereals still waiting for rain

Most winter wheat made it into spring, but cold temperatures and lack of rainfall have added a sour note

Spring was not kind to this year’s winter cereals, and the so-far patchy rains have seen little improvement.

Both forage and winter cereals suffered from a cold, dry start to the growing season. Temperatures remained unseasonably cold well into May. A major frost event May 26 saw widespread lows under -2 C, with some areas in the northwest, Interlake, west and east dropping to almost -4 C. The east, Interlake and parts of the west and central Manitoba saw a similar dip days later, waking up to frost-covered fields June 2.

Why it matters: Winter wheat growers could be facing disappointing results this season, even after a good winter saw most crops survive.

Winter cereals were a concern in the western part of the province in late May, provincial farm production advisor Lionel Kaskiw noted in one of the province’s weekly Crop Talk webinars.

On May 30, Kaskiw reported that the cold temperatures had delayed tillering in winter cereals in his area and he expected yield would take a hit in those fields.

“The days where the winter wheat has been experiencing frost, plus this latest frost here is definitely affecting its growth,” he said. “We’re definitely seeing a lot shorter crop right now in most areas and not as vigorous a crop.”

Since then, temperatures have jumped to the other extreme, with highs of 30 C or higher on multiple days.

Manitoba saw wildly variable temperatures in the last days of May and first days of June. Winnipeg reported lows of just over 4 C May 29, jumping to 30 C the following day, according to Environment and Climate Change Canada.

Lack of rain, however, has been perhaps even more critical. Much of western Manitoba remained below half of normal moisture at the end of May, despite the first significant rainfalls in weeks days earlier.

Weather systems dropped close to an inch of rain in a patch along and to the south of the Assiniboine River May 24-26, while sporadic thunderstorms hit areas of the province in the following weeks.

Those rains were an appreciated boost when they fell on winter cereals, agronomist Ken Gross of the Western Winter Wheat Initiative said, but precipitation has been far from uniform and crops in many areas are still struggling.

“Conditions are quite variable depending on what part of the province you’re in,” he said. “Rains have been pretty spotty, so I know the southwest corner of the province, they’re still waiting for some rain.”

Producers were closely watching the forecast in that area, he said.

The far southwest corner saw little rain from the late-May systems that dropped moisture farther north and east. Soil moisture in Pierson and Waskada sat below 10 per cent in the first five centimetres as of June 7.

Producers had a more positive outlook directly north of the TransCanada Highway.

“Closer to the Shoal Lake area, they’ve gotten half an inch to an inch over the area and I think that’s going to really help the winter wheat because it’s in stem elongation, so that likely has come just in time to preserve the tillers and that will really help for the yield potential there,” Gross said.

To the east, previously adequate moisture near Stonewall was starting to dry up by June 7, he added.

Much of agro-Manitoba expected rain over the second weekend in June.

“The fields are hanging on. They’re still looking good and I’m hopeful that the rains will continue and bring all the crops ahead, because it has been a very dry spring,” Gross said.

Others say the rains were too little, too late.

The rain was, “a month too late to really help and not near enough,” Crop Care Consulting agronomist Mitchell Blyth said over social media.

Winter survival, however, has been generally good across the province. It is a pleasant change from last year, when winterkill claimed almost half of winter wheat acres. By May 11, 2018, MASC had reported winterkill claims on 33,000 acres out of an estimated 70,000 acres planted. Fall rye was less impacted, with 6,500 acres claimed.

Good snow cover throughout winter helped crops survive this year, Gross said. Likewise, he said, low growing points saved crops from frost damage during the widespread frosts in May and early June.

“Now we’re just waiting for the rain in some areas,” he said.

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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