Cold spring keeps a tight leash on seeding

Farmers are bemoaning the late start to seeding, on top of the issues carried over from last fall

Farmers across Manitoba were ready to hit the field by early May, but Mother Nature wasn’t co-operating.

Cold temperatures delayed seeding across the province through the first part of May.

According to the first Manitoba crop report May 5, producers had only managed a “piecemeal approach” to seeding at that point.

Why it matters: Farmers are already coming off a hard growing season and a challenging harvest that carried over into 2020. Now, a cold start to the season is promising to add to the misery.

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The province estimated that less than one per cent of seeding was complete by the start of May, down from five per cent last year. Over the last three years, the province estimates an average three per cent of seeding was done by the start of May.

Soil moisture continued to keep farmers out of the field well into the month, despite a relatively dry winter reported through most of the province.

In the southwest, producers reported standing water in low spots and muddy fields. Little seeding had been done by May 5, save for some areas around Virden and Brandon.

That story was echoed across the province. Producers reported some early crops going into the ground in patches of the northwest, east and central Manitoba, while movement in the field had just started in the Interlake.

“Some wheat and corn,” had been seeded in the Red River Valley, the province noted, but that, too, was limited.

Seeding was further delayed by the remnants of last year’s harvest. Producers across the province were still struggling to clear fields of unharvested acres, the province reported May 5.

Simon Ellis, who farms near Wawanesa, took to Twitter May 5 with pictures of his burning flax field.

“We were able to get off all of our crop except for the flax and then just a little bit of canola,” he later said in an interview.

The farm hoped to combine its last 20 acres of canola in short order, although Ellis noted that field conditions had turned wet, “so we’ll probably end up burning it as well.”

In his social media post, Ellis noted that his destroyed flax was yielding under 10 bushels an acre, while prices were coming in at a fraction of normal. The Wawanesa farmer reported one bid of $1.91 per bushel, a far cry from the $12-$15 he would normally expect.

“The sample is so bad that nobody will buy it,” he noted.

Ellis is far from alone.

Lionel Kaskiw, farm production specialist with the province, noted May 6 that some producers were still making good progress with their unharvested acres, while spring harvest had bogged down in other areas as frost came out of the ground.

“Some producers are getting a little bit worried because we’re into May and they haven’t started doing anything yet,” he said during a recent webinar put on by the province.

At the same time, he noted, producers last year had seeded crop by this point, only to run into similarly poor weather and delayed crop growth. His area of the southwest saw snow this time last year, he noted.

Hurry up and wait

Frustration was mounting in the second week of May as producers took to Twitter to either complain about lack of seeding progress, or share photos of getting stuck after attempting to brave the field.

“We are in serious trouble here,” Aaron Hargreaves, who farms in southwest Manitoba, commented on one seeding progress photo in the second week of May.

Ron Krahn, of Rivers, posted a more optimistic outlook. Seeding on his farm was “in full swing,” he posted on May 7, although he noted that fields were, “still plenty wet.”

Ellis is also operating on a later timeline than usual.

“We’re certainly delayed compared to normal,” he said.

By this time in May, Ellis said he would normally expect to be done seeding cereals. Instead, his farm hoped to only start fertilizing by May 8. Ellis did not expect to start seeding until this week, thanks to cold and wet weather in the forecast.

“We’re just not getting the heat that we need to get the frost out of the ground and get the water table pushed back down and get going,” he said. “We’ve tried harrowing and rotary harrowing, but we can’t even hardly get on the land with that.”

Like other farmers, Ellis is targeting his fields with the lightest soil in the search for workable ground.

In the southwest, Kaskiw noted that soil five centimetres down still hovered between 3 C and 8 C in the first week of May, still distinctly cool.

Input companies also say the weather has impacted how much product they are moving as farmers struggle to access their fields.

Producers went into the growing season expecting to make up for a lack of fall field work. Despite that, Dwayne Durand, manager for Shur-Gro Farm Services in Brandon, says they have seen less fertilizer demand than normal this time of year thanks to lack of seeding progress, while Koch Fertilizer Canada told the Manitoba Co-operator this week that fertilizer shipments had been delayed due to weather.

The forecast did little to raise spirits. As of May 8, Environment and Climate Change Canada was forecasting overnight lows well below freezing, offering little hope that ground frost would ease in order for fields to dry. Temperatures on May 10 were expected to drop to as low as -9 C. Parts of the province were also warned to expect a late snowfall, further delaying seeding conditions. Western parts of the province expected up to five centimetres of snow.

About the author

Reporter

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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