Manitoba farmers welcomed the precipitation much of agro-Manitoba received April 12 and 13, even if most of it was snow.
“The moisture is certainly appreciated…” Keystone Agriculture Producers’ (KAP) president Bill Campbell said during the general farm organization’s online advisory council meeting April 15.
However, in an interview later Campbell stressed more timely rains will be needed for crops and livestock following months of below normal precipitation.
“It helped us dodge a bullet,” Campbell said. “I think it has helped with regards to uncertainty, unless you’re in an area that missed it, but I would suggest that we certainly have enough to germinate (seeds) and help the grass come, but I don’t think this is going to go very far.”
An April snowstorm dropped varying amounts of snow in Manitoba’s farming areas ranging from a high of 29 to 32 cm at Woodlands to just five to 10 at Miami, Environment and Climate Change Canada reported.
In some areas, including Miami, strong winds blew the little snow that fell into the bush leaving many fields almost bare.
Dugouts for cattle and reservoirs to irrigate potatoes both rely heavily on spring runoff and there wasn’t much of that due to below snow this winter and normal a dry summer and fall.
“The next 20 degree day we’re going to be back to worrying about those issues again, but hopefully we got some grass for the cows to eat,” Campbell said. “We still may need to look at water management. There may need tp be some water pipelines put into pastures. I don’t know if we’re going to accommodate irrigation because of the volumes of water (needed). A guy might have to pipe water two miles to get to a pasture just to fill a water trough rather than haul it. We do have some better technology that’s better than the ’30s, but at what cost?”
Most Manitoba processing potato growers that rely on reservoirs for irrigation don’t have enough water stored yet to meet normal needs, Dan Sawatzky, manager of Keystone Potato Growers Association Inc., said in an interview April 16. Farmers hope there will be more yet while streams and ditches are still wet, which will result in greater runoff.
Even farmers with access to rivers for capturing water were restricted in how much they could divert this spring to protect fish habitat, he said.
Farmers who have access to aquifer water rely less or not alt all on capturing runoff.
Sometimes big rains during the growing season allow irrigators to capture some runoff too, Sawatzky said.
The recent snow was also physiologically important, demonstrating after a long dry spell that precipitation can still fall, he said.
Lowe farm producer Wilfred Butch Harder told the meeting his rain gauge showed the snow was equivalent to about an inch of rain.
“It was very, very dry here,” Harder said. “Seeding has started. We got our wheat in last week. My neighbour said it was too cold. I told them to put a coat on and turn up the heater in their cabs.
“We were seeding into dry ground, but now it will be good. It will come up.”
Some of KAP’s 12 districts prepared an update on their districts for the advisory council meeting. District two, around Holland in south central Manitoba, reported very dry conditions “with tests showing one-third of normal moisture in the top two feet of soil. Fall rye has come out of dormancy with little or no winter kill. The current snow will help with dryness, but more rain will be needed.
“Spring wheat has been seeded, but only a small percentage.”
There wasn’t much snow in district 9, which borders Riding Mountain National Park in the northwest.
“Looks like seeding will be early,” the report says. “Soil moisture is good for germination. Fall rye and winter wheat are off to a good start.”
The drainage pumps that assist farmers near The Pas get into their fields started about three weeks ago Leonard Gluska, who represents district 12 in northwest Manitoba, told the meeting. Seeding could begin near The Pas in a couple of weeks, he said.
“The Swan River area was saved from drought by a good batch of snow this last time around,” Gluska said. “It was a blessing. We have reports of Minitonas getting around 20 inches. It seemed to vary throughout the area.”
Among other topics at the virtual meeting, the Hudson Bay Railway, the Port Churchill and its tank farm recently came under the ownership of northern communities after being half owned by AGT Foods and Fairfax Financial, Gluska said.
The change was announced in March.
“They are out of the picture now,” he said. “It didn’t seem to pan out the last three years the way it was anticipated, but it did get things started and the line fixed up and going. The next year or two there will be an upgrade of the line so it will be a 50 mile per hour track from The Pas to Churchill.”
Gluska predicted the grain farmers of northwestern Manitoba and neighbouring Saskatchewan will be better off. Instead of being the furthest from port some will be as close as 520 miles to a deepwater port able to berth ships that can load 60,000 tonnes.
Although Churchill’s grain terminal was built in 1929, it has been well maintained and upgraded, he said.
“So we’re looking to bigger and better things,” Gluska said. “There’s a lot of excitement and anticipation by the farm community in all three areas of the catchment area. With all the bad news around this is some good news in our area.”
$21 a bushel canola
KAP’s advisory meeting ended on a high note thanks to soaring canola prices.
Starbuck farmer Chuck Fossay said he had recently sold a load (super B) of canola for $21 a bushel.
“It’s almost better than gold,” quipped Campbell, who joked farmers will be going through their bins with tweezers to get every last, valuable seed.
In an interview April 16 Fossay said it was the highest price he’d every received for canola. It was delivered to Viterra’s crushing plant at Ste. Agathe.
It was Clearfield canola, which often earns a premium because it’s not genetically modified. While herbicide tolerant, the trait came through mutagenesis.
Like most farmers Fossay said he sold a bit of his 2020 canola crop throughout the 2020-21 crop year starting at $12 a bushel last October.
Fossay said he has one more load to sell, but is holding on in hopes the price might even go higher. Canadian canola stocks are low, says Statistics Canada, so prices could increase this summer.