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Winter wheat takes a beating in the east

The mid-winter melt may have felt good at the time, but winter wheat 
producers are now getting a first-hand look at its downside


Mid-winter thaws hit hard at overwintering cereals in January and February, and farmers in eastern Manitoba are just now discovering the impact.

Jake Davidson, executive manager of Winter Cereals Canada, said winter wheat acres north, south and east of Winnipeg suffered significant crop damage when water-saturated ground later refroze. Other growers who escaped that weather have fared far better.

“As you go west through Manitoba and into Saskatchewan, it gets better and better and better and my people in central Saskatchewan are jumping up and down, their crops look so good,” he said.

Both eastern Manitoba and the Interlake have reported winter damage or patchy regrowth in winter cereals, according to the first Manitoba Agriculture crop report, issued May 1.

Manitoba Agriculture estimates that between 35 and 80 per cent of winter wheat in eastern Manitoba is damaged, although assessment is ongoing.

The same report noted significant winterkill in the Interlake and water stress in the far southwest corner of the province.

Over 50 per cent of winter wheat acres in the Interlake are up for reseeding, Manitoba Agriculture has estimated.

Producers have filed 200 winter wheat claims and 27 fall rye claims with the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation, MASC has reported.

David Van Deynze, MASC vice-president of insurance operations, said the number of damaged acres are still being assessed. Overall percentage of affected acres in Manitoba is also pending, as MASC awaits June’s seeded acreage reports.

“It’s a little bit anecdotal at this point, but certainly it does sound like the majority of the acres in eastern Manitoba seem to be in question at this point,” Van Deynze said. “I won’t say producers have made up their minds entirely on all the fields, but they are concerned about them and will have some decisions to make in the next little while here, for sure.”

Van Deynze also speculated that some damage may have occurred during wintery weather in late April.

Doug Martin, chair of Winter Cereals Manitoba, is among the producers to lose crops this spring.

“Where we are, the ditches were running in February,” he said. “The field I am doing ditching on right now was a third covered in ice. At that point, I actually ordered seed because when you have that much ice covering, it doesn’t do much insulating and then we had cold temperatures after that. I think it was just too much — and the ice seals it off from oxygen.”

MASC gives consent to destroy a crop if yields are sure to fall beneath the farmer’s long-term average.

“It’s always the producer’s decision but we give them consent to destroy it and start over with a new crop because we don’t want people starting off this early in the season already knowing that their yield is going to be less than what their long-term average is,” Van Deynze said.

The spring damage will further shrink already-low winter wheat acres in Manitoba. According to Statistics Canada, about 140,000 acres of winter wheat were seeded province-wide in fall 2016, down 19.9 per cent from the year previous. That decrease continues a trend that has seen yearly percentage drops in the double digits for the last five years. Statistics Canada reported 600,000 winter wheat acres seeded in fall 2012, a number that dropped to 434,900 acres in 2013, 235,000 in 2014 and 174,950 acres in fall 2015.

“We did not have a huge seeding last year because so much of the crop or stubble crop did not get taken off in the reasonable time or, in many cases, taken off at all,” Davidson said.

Wet conditions in fall 2016 put a significant obstacle in front of winter cereal seeding, Martin said.

“Whatever went in might have been stressed too with all the wet conditions we had last fall. It’s too bad, but that’s what Mother Nature throws at you once in a while,” he said.

Cereals wintered well to the west, according to Manitoba Agriculture, but the extreme southwest is struggling with water, the fallout of spring run-off that led to flood warnings throughout the region.

“There was a lot of flooding in southwest Manitoba,” Davidson said. “There were hundreds of miles of closed roads from cross-country flooding, so that affects us and it also means that the spring crops are going to be difficult to get out there because the ground’s going to be too wet.”

Van Deynze, however, noted that western producers are just beginning to assess winter crops.

“It’s pretty normal for the southwest and the western part of the province in general to be a little bit behind in terms of making assessments on winter wheat,” he said. “It’s a few degrees cooler, the melt lasts a little bit longer than it does in the eastern part of the province.”

Despite initial reports of damage, Winter Cereals Canada is warning producers against giving up on fields for another several weeks.

“Don’t panic at this point,” Davidson said. “Get halfway through your spring seeding and then really take a good close look at your winter wheat crop and see what it’s done because you still have time to get rid of it and put in a new crop. Unless you absolutely know that you’re drowned out, give the crop a chance yet.”

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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