Wintery fall leaves harvest losses, frozen spuds

October’s snowy start has hit at remaining crops, some more so than others

Potato losses could have a potentially huge financial impact for farmers this year, says the Keystone Potato Producers Association.

Farmers have been celebrating a return to the field, but weeks of premature winter have left their mark.

Dry regions that were already expecting lower soybean yields have taken another hit in harvest loss.

Cassandra Tkachuk, production specialist with the Manitoba Pulse and Soybean Growers, says they have noted harvest losses well above the usual five per cent threshold. In one case, she said, a producer reported up to 20 per cent of the crop left in the field.

“Depending on yield, harvest loses could have been pretty bad,” she said.

MPSG counts several types of harvest loss. In some cases, pods may have remain attached to the plant and do not get threshed out. In other cases, muddy conditions and a higher header may mean pods are lost, particularly in the shorter, more stunted crops seen in dry areas this year. Those shorter crops may not have fed properly into the machine.

The producer group is warning growers to consider loss from the front of the combine, not just what is blown out the back. MPSG estimates about 80 per cent of harvest loss comes from the front of the combine.

Tkachuk has been pointing farmers to the MPSG’s harvest loss assessment app and is also reminding growers to watch their speed, since five miles an hour or more risks more harvest loss.

Moisture has presented another concern. MPSG has reported more growers looking for advice on aeration and grain drying after persistently wet conditions.

“I was getting a lot of calls on drying down soybeans through aeration or grain dryers, but basically you have to be careful with that to avoid getting them too dry,” Tkachuk said.

Seed soybeans should be handled delicately in grain dryers or risk seed coat cracking, provincial pulse specialist Dennis Lange says. The province puts maximum grain drying temperature at 38-49 C for seed soybeans and 54-66 C (with a slower speed) for crush soybeans, since crush soybeans have little concern for germination.


Potatoes, likewise, have suffered a blow.

Dan Sawatzky, manager of the Keystone Potato Producers Association, says there is a good chance Manitoba will fall short of its contract amounts after damaging frosts froze some fields beyond salvaging.

“There will be abandoned acres this year, something that has been very uncommon in the province over the last number of years,” he said.

It’s a potentially huge financial impact for those farmers, he added, even for those who have insurance.

Potato fields largely weathered their first major frost Sep. 29, Sawatzky said, but the same could not be said for the next two weeks of cold. An estimated 30 per cent of potatoes were still in the field when temperatures dipped to almost -11 C Oct. 11.

“Every area did get damage,” he said. “I think the challenge after that, after the Oct. 11 event, was to determine if the crop was salvageable, whether it would store or not.”

Sawatzky says it will be difficult to gauge the contract shortfall until farmers see how much of their remaining crops store successfully.

Some producers are attempting to manage the frozen potatoes in storage, he said, piling tubers lower in the hopes that dry down will occur. Others have opted against further harvest attempts.


The news was better for canola growers, assuming the crop was mature when frost hit.

Farmers have not noted appreciable quality loss, despite some swathes left lying in the field and under snow, Angela Brackenreed of the Canola Council of Canada said.

“I think most of the quality concerns came from when there was killing frost before the crop had been allowed to mature, but as far as the effects of the snow and the precipitation itself, that really hasn’t negatively impacted the quality of the crop,” the agronomy specialist said. “Unfortunately, we have heard that there’s been some losses in the field from shattering and pod drop and there’s been some challenges picking up the crop, particularly the crop that was standing and that snow was so heavy, it really pushed it to the ground. It’s been a little difficult to manage through the combine.”

The Canola Council of Canada is expecting much higher green counts in fields that were immature when the killing frosts hit.

There is little to be done about those green counts, Brackenreed said, although she advised producers to monitor aeration and storage closely, since green seed is more volatile. Farmers with those high green seed levels can also expect a financial hit.

Brackenreed says most canola in the southern part of the province was already in the bin when the cold hit, although there were still substantial acres further north.

Seasonable weather returned to the province in the third week of October and most cool season crops were in the bin as of Oct. 22. Cereal harvest was essentially complete across the province, along with field peas, 95 per cent of canola and 80 per cent of soybeans. Potato producers in central Manitoba were wrapping up harvest, while about 75 per cent of flax acres were harvested. Late season harvest was also well underway, with 40-50 per cent of sunflower and corn harvest complete.

About the author


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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