Manitoba farmers, on average, reaped a bumper crop in 2016, despite a record number of hail claims and excessive rain in some areas.
A few new yield records were set and most major crops, except for field peas, yielded above the 10-year average.
This information comes from a breakdown of yields by crop variety provincially and by crop insurance risk area, found in the 18th edition of Yield Manitoba, a supplement in this week’s Manitoba Co-operator.
Amid all the talk about ‘big data’ Yield Manitoba and its online companion Management Plus, are practical data sources for farmers.
The data comes from the Manitoba Agricultural Service Corporation’s (MASC) crop insurance program, collected from almost 10 million acres, giving farmers and the agricultural industry deep insight into what’s being grown and its performance.
As expected, yields varied around the province in 2016. Some municipalities struggled, such as Emerson-Franklin in the southern Red River Valley, where average field pea and canola yields were poor.
But not far away the Rural Municipality of Roland had the highest average yields by municipality for red spring wheat, soybeans, oats, grain corn and flax. (See the Year in Review story in Yield Manitoba for more details – click here to access download)
Lots of other municipalities harvested bumper crops too. The Municipality of Roblin, northwest of Riding Mountain National Park, had the highest average yields for feed wheat and canola.
Roblin also had the highest average yield for a specific variety of feed wheat and canola in Manitoba.
Yield Manitoba, and Management Plus, aren’t just curiosities, but important tools for farmers, says Doug Wilcox, MASC’s manager of research administration.
“I think it is important to farmers because it is independent, real farm data from a large number of acres in Manitoba and that is better than getting coffee shop hype or marketing hype,” Wilcox said in a recent interview. “It’s from a 10-million-acre test plot.
“You certainly can be comfortable when the data is from a large number of acres in your area, using on-farm production practices, whereas scientific trials are usually small plots, using high inputs and are best for comparing between varieties. In terms of getting a realistic yield potential, probably on-farm data is best. Usually scientific trials aren’t conducted next door to you, whereas the yields we are reporting are from you and your neighbours on similar soil in similar regions in the same year.”
Current and past issues of Yield Manitoba are also available on the Management Plus website.
Yield Manitoba data allows farmers to compare yields, by variety and by risk area, providing insight as to how they perform under different growing conditions, Wilcox added.
A breakdown of yields by variety provincially, compared over time, can help farmers spot varieties with consistent yields under varying conditions.
In addition to the data and the 2016 crop in review, Yield Manitoba has agroclimatic maps from Manitoba Agriculture, documenting the weather through the growing season.
The publication is a great benchmarking tool, Wilcox said. Farmers can compare their yields against their risk area. If they are below average the farmer can look for reasons; if above he or she is on the right track.
Farmers can dig even deeper online with Management Plus. Want to know how much fertilizer farmers in your municipality, on average, applied by crop and the average yield? Use the fertilizer data browser on the Management Plus website.
When this article was written 2016 data wasn’t posted yet. But in 2015 in the RM of Roland farmers planted almost 25,000 acres of canola averaging 48 bushels an acre. The query tool also shows those canola growers applied an average of 122 pounds of nitrogen, 39 pounds of phosphorus, six pounds of potassium and 13 pounds of sulphur.
Given the string of bumper crops, despite weather challenges, could this be the new normal? Climate change experts forecast more extremes in weather, Wilcox said. Perhaps, in between the disasters the weather and crop production will be very good.
“But the one-in-10-year events are likely to be real bad hits when they do occur, not just affecting corn or soybeans or a single crop,” he said. “It hasn’t happened yet (in recent years), but I wouldn’t place bets that it would never happen, that is for sure.”
Recently Manitoba crop yields have never been better and yield variability never lower, Wilcox said.
“But that is in part not just because of newer varieties… it is because of improved management,” he said.
Farmers are, on average, applying more fertilizer. And in recent years there has been enough moisture and a long enough growing season, to make use of it, Wilcox said.
“People are driving bigger equipment,” he added. “They have the capability to drive through mud… to get the job done — planting, or harvesting or whatever. The infrastructure on a large farm can handle a lot more and probably is.”