Prairie frost coming, but little crop damage expected

Freezing temperatures look to arrive this week across parts of Western Canada, but steady harvest progress has left few of farmers’ crops vulnerable to damage, industry officials say.

The first significant frost often hits the Prairie provinces by mid-September, but temperatures have only dipped slightly below freezing overnight so far, in isolated areas.

Colder air is on the way on Wednesday and Thursday for northern Alberta and northwestern Saskatchewan, but damage to crops looks to be modest, said Andrew Owen, agricultural meteorologist at World Weather Inc.

"I don’t think we’re expecting much, if any damage to occur, just because most of the crops are at the mature stage," Owen said.

Immature crops that are still ripening may face some quality damage due to frost, he said.

Environment Canada forecasts low temperatures of -2 C on Thursday for parts of southeastern and south-central Saskatchewan; however, the harvest is well over half finished in those regions.

Late-seeded canola and oats in west-central and northwestern Saskatchewan are the most vulnerable to frost damage, but most crops in the province are safe, said Grant McLean, cropping management specialist with Saskatchewan’s provincial Agriculture Knowledge Centre at Moose Jaw.

McLean estimated 75-80 per cent of the overall crop has been harvested, or is at least swathed or ready for harvesting, up from 65 per cent about a week ago.

In Alberta, about half of the overall harvest was swathed or harvested as of a week ago, with progress the slowest in northeastern and northwestern regions.

After brisk harvest progress over the weekend, it’s likely that three-quarters of Alberta’s crops are now in farmers’ bins or swathed, said Harry Brook, crop specialist with Alberta’s provincial Ag-Info Centre at Stettler.

"If we have a killing frost this week, it’s not going to have a huge effect," he said.

Manitoba’s harvest is the most advanced, with nearly all cereals off the field and most canola harvested as well.

Canada is the biggest producer and shipper of canola, also called rapeseed, and the largest exporter of spring wheat, durum and oats.

Most crops are expected to be larger this year, due to favourable spring planting conditions, but disease and scorching mid-summer heat have led to disappointing yields for canola and barley in some areas.

Later this week, farmers’ harvesting progress should be helped by warm, dry weather on much of the Prairies, Owen said.

The longer-term forecast suggest another blast of cold air hitting northeastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba early next week, he said.

— Rod Nickel writes for Reuters from Winnipeg.

Should you hold off on seeding winter wheat until it rains? These questions and others are discussed on CropChatter, our sister crop management advice website for Manitoba producers. Check it out HERE.

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