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Winter wheat harvest shows effect of winter thaw

A warm spell this past winter has left an unfortunate legacy

Manitoba’s winter wheat yields won’t be breaking any records this year.

Early-season concerns over winterkill are now being realized at the grain bin as harvest progresses.

Much of the east, central Manitoba and Interlake reported poor or patchy regrowth in early 2017, something experts blamed on a mid-winter melt.

Jake Davidson.
photo: Allan Dawson

“In eastern Manitoba, there was a huge amount of crop loss,” Jake Davidson, Winter Cereals Canada executive manager, said. “I keep hesitating to call it winterkill. Winterkill is traditionally when the soil is not covered; the top layer of soil freezes really hard because it’s really cold; there’s high winds and so on. What we lost last winter was (due to) January and March rains, which flooded fields and then froze solid back into skating rinks and basically the crop was deprived of oxygen under the soil and it was killed off by the ice. It was not a typical winterkill.”

Winter wheat yields in the Interlake have been low thus far, Manitoba Agriculture says, although fall rye has fared better, with yields ranging from average to good.

High survival areas in the east have reported between 80- and 100-bushel-per-acre yields in fall rye, Davidson added.

In the central region, winter wheat has yielded 50 to 80 bushels per acre compared to 75 to 110 bushels per acre of fall rye, according to the last provincial crops report. Despite overwinter damage, both quality and test weight have been promising, the province said.

Manitoba Agriculture reported slightly below-average yields but average quality for both winter cereals in southwest Manitoba.

“It’s just really getting started in western Manitoba and it’s kind of hard to say because there’s huge geographic differences north and south of No. 1 Highway,” Davidson said.

Dodged drought

Winter Cereals Canada says conditions generally improve from east to west across the Prairies this year, despite abnormally dry conditions.

As of the end of July, most of Saskatchewan south of Saskatoon was in some type of drought, with the majority of land south and west of Regina registering either severe or extreme drought.

In Manitoba, everything south of the Interlake was considered “abnormally dry,” while patches of moderate drought cropped up south of Winnipeg and along the Saskatchewan-Manitoba border.

“The majority of (winter cereal) moisture is spring moisture, so they were not as impacted by the dryness as some of the other crops,” Davidson said. “Where it might get us is there was a lot of unseeded acreage. There has been quite a demand for seed this fall and it might have a bit of an effect on fall seeding. If we don’t get a nice fall rain between now and Sept. 15, there might be a little bit of germination problem.”

Davidson does not expect any trouble with seeding timing, assuming farmers can harvest their early canola to clear fields.

Manitoba’s dry spell hit a reprieve in some regions as rain moved in during the first weeks of August. Areas measuring between 40 and 60 per cent average precipitation this growing season decreased in August. Excluding small patches, only the region directly south of Winnipeg to the U.S. border still hit that category, while most of agricultural Manitoba had received 60 to 85 per cent of normal rainfall and some regions of the Interlake had climbed to 115 to 150 per cent of average precipitation.

Southwest Manitoba, which had previously marked the same dry conditions as the Red River Valley, saw moisture improve, while pastures in the east continued to dry out. As of Aug. 16, 60 per cent of hay and pasture land reported adequate moisture, while 20 per cent was short of water and the final 20 per cent was “very short.”

“It hasn’t affected us to any great extent,” Davidson said. “The rains that came a week, 10 days, ago were just ahead of harvest and I’m not sure that a rain at that point is going to do us any good… but I don’t think it’s doing us any harm because the fields are not unmanageable. It’s not like you can’t go out with your combine and drive across.”

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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