Too dry, too wet and then it snowed. Lots.
That sums up Manitoba’s 2019 growing season, culminating with the “harvest from hell,” which for some farmers won’t end until spring.
“I have often said it’s not a good sign when you’re harvesting and they’re playing Christmas carols on the radio,” Minto farmer and Keystone Agricultural Producers president Bill Campbell said in an interview Dec. 18.
“To have the amount of crop left out in this area I would say is unprecedented,” he added. “For the most part guys have always been able to get the crop off. There have been a lot of challenges, but to see the amount of oilseeds and wheat and other crops left out and the duration of the corn harvest…
“It was certainly a harvest season many producers will not forget for sure.”
Much to Campbell’s disappointment after three years of study, Canada’s agriculture ministers announced last month they will continue to study reforms to AgriStability instead of implementing changes to assist farmers in 2019-20 suffering from a poor harvest and ongoing trade challenges.
“Now that we need to use it, it’s not there for us,” he said.
Despite an early start, getting the 2019 crop has been a struggle almost from the start.
There was spotty germination, spring frosts, relentless flea beetles and destructive cutworms all of which, in places, prompted reseeding.
Then there were late flushes of weeds and even marauding grasshoppers here and there.
Soybean cyst nematodes were discovered for the first time in four Manitoba fields, the noxious weed, tall waterhemp, was detected in four new fields, and a new clubroot strain not controlled by traditional resistant canola was found in south-central Manitoba.
Surprisingly early data collected by the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC) points to Manitoba farmers harvesting above-average yields for many crops, with soybeans being an exception. (See Yield Manitoba in February for Manitoba’s 2019 crop yields.)
However, grades are lower on later-harvested crops.
As of Nov. 30, MASC estimated around 438,000 acres of annual crop was still in the field. That means about 96 per cent of the 10 million or so acres seeded last spring was off. More than 220,000 of those acres were grain corn and sunflowers, which farmers were in many areas still harvesting before Christmas.
Since Nov. 12 when Manitoba Agriculture released its last weekly harvest report, another 500,000 acres of crop were harvested. By the end of October 2018, 97 per cent of the crop was in the bin, Manitoba Agriculture said.
Most of agro-Manitoba was dry this spring after a dry growing season in 2018.
January to June 2019 in Winnipeg was the driest since record-keeping began 133 years ago, Environment and Climate Change Canada said.
Spotty thundershowers in late June and in July helped many crops around the province, but not all.
Farmers able to start harvesting cereals and canola in late August and early September generally reported good yields and quality, despite earlier challenges.
“But then September came along and things went downhill from there,” Campbell said.
Many parts of Manitoba saw record rainfall in September, with some places receiving three times normal precipitation.
Winnipeg set a record at 153.1 mm of rain, compared to the previous record of 149.7 set in 1941.
Brandon shattered its record of 140.4 mm set in 1921 getting 186 mm. Altona, Carberry, Emerson, Sprague and Woodlands all received more than 200 mm of rain in September.
“These are some truly amazing amounts, not just for September, but for any month of the year,” the Manitoba Co-operator’s weather forecaster Daniel Bezte reported. “Looking back at the records for wettest month ever recorded, most stations landed in the 220- to 250-mm range, so this September was truly a wet month.”
Grain dryers were fired up and combines parked as farmers waited anxiously to get back into the fields. Many pushed on, retrofitting with tracks to travel in the mud, or rutting up their fields and sometimes breaking stuck equipment when pulling it out of the mud.
Then came the worst Thanksgiving snowstorm in memory. Roads and fields were buried in heavy, water-laden snow, ripping off tree limbs and pulling down power lines, resulting in Manitoba Hydro’s longest and most widespread power outage ever.
Many areas received more than 30 cm of snow; Carberry got 74.
As of Oct. 15, Manitoba Agriculture estimated 26 per cent of Manitoba’s crop — 2.6 million acres worth $1 billion — was still in the field with quality declining, reducing its value.
Most of it was corn (grain and silage), soybeans, potatoes, sunflowers, dry beans and flax.
The freezing temperatures that followed destroyed 12,000 acres of processing potatoes too wet to harvest.
“Last year (2018) we talked about it being unprecedented (with 5,200 acres of potatoes unable to be harvested due to wet weather, followed by freezing temperatures), well this year (2019) is that much worse from what we see currently,” Keystone Potato Growers Association manager Dan Sawatzky said in an interview Oct. 25.
Spring seeding in 2019 got off to an early start for some Manitoba farmers, including Bob Bartley of Roland. With nearly ideal soil conditions Bartley started seeding hard red spring wheat April 23 and after completing two quarters, finished wheat seeding April 24.
Much of agro-Manitoba saw below-freezing temperatures early May 27. Cool weather earlier probably helped some crops tolerate the frost.
A few days before much of the province received some badly needed rain, but amounts varied.
“From the Kenton area all the way to, say, St. Adolphe and to the Red River and farther to the east, they actually got a pretty good dump,” Manitoba Agriculture’s agro-meteorologist Timi Ojo said. “Not so much though closer to the Saskatchewan border.”
Temperatures warmed up in early June, which also saw flea beetles devouring canola crops.
Eric McLean who farms near Oak River was hard hit. Despite spraying the insects he expected he would have to reseed at least two fields.
“The problem this year is between the dry conditions and the crazy winds and the frost and cold nights and all of a sudden hot days and everything else, the crop isn’t actively growing as much as it should be,” he said.
By June 7 MASC reported reseeding claims for canola jumped from 182 as of May 30 to over 700.
MASC had received 850 reseeding claims for all crops by June 7, manager of claims services David Koroscil said. Frost, poor germination and flea beetles were the main cause.
Much of agro-Manitoba got badly needed rain in July, followed by a slightly cooler-than-average August.
Later-seeded and reseeded crops could’ve used more heat.
A lot of grain corn was harvested at well above 30 per cent moisture, resulting in lower bushel weight after drying.
“The vast amount of corn is now off,” Manitoba Agriculture’s oilseed specialist Dane Froese said in an interview Dec. 18.
Farmers have been making headway on sunflowers too.
“By and large I think we’re just looking for this year to be behind us,” he said. “Trade market issues, harvest issues, moisture issues, all contributed to 2019 being a tough year for a lot of farmers.
“One silver lining here is we have lots of soil moisture going into the spring so we should have good seedbeds and good germination conditions if the temperature holds out, but it’s going to be a challenge putting fertilizer down because a lot didn’t happen this fall. So spring is going to be a busy time of year so farmers will feel the stress there too trying to get their crops in, in a timely fashion. Farmers take one day at a time and keep on trucking. That’s what we do.”
– With files from Alexis Stockford, Daniel Bezte and Geralyn Wichers.