Manitoba corn and soybean growers have a record number of reasons for hoping for more warm weather and no early frost.
Farmers collectively upped their corn acreage by a quarter this year to 342,593 acres and seeded a whopping 1.08 million acres of soybeans (a 28 per cent increase), according to estimates from Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation (MASC).
Both numbers are records and close to Statistics Canada’s June estimate — a report discounted by many analysts, who figured the late spring would have dissuaded farmers from seeding that many acres of the heat-loving crops.
“I’m a little bit surprised by the number of soybeans acres,” said Roxanne Lewko, executive director of the Manitoba Pulse Growers Association.
Not only were soybean seed supplies tight this spring, there were reports of farmers returning seed because wet weather delayed seeding, she said.
Theresa Bergsma, secretary-manager of the Manitoba Corn Growers Association, said she expected farmers to plant more corn this year, but not as much as they did.
MASC’s figures are considered quite accurate because they’re based on reports filed by every farmer enrolled in crop insurance policy, which includes most Manitoba farmers.
Red spring and winter wheat plantings are up 11 and five per cent, respectively, while plantings of canola and most other crops are down.
Strong prices and new earlier-maturing varieties boosted the prospects for soybeans and grain corn, as did last year’s bumper yields — 36.2 bushels an acre for soybeans (just shy of the record of 37) and a record 121 for grain corn (beating the old mark by three bushels an acre).
Rob Brunel, who farms at Ste. Rose du Lac, is part of the trend. Soybeans now account for almost 40 per cent of his acreage and this year, he sowed grain corn for the first time.
“We’ve had success with soybeans and I like trying new things so we planted 100 acres of corn,” he said. “The biggest challenge with corn is getting the earliest of the early varieties. You need to start looking for seed early.”
Although spring seeding was delayed, hot weather in early July caught most soybean and corn crops up.
“So far the crop is looking really good,” Lewko said.
“Overall we’re in great shape,” Bergsma said.
But both want Mother Nature to turn up the thermostat.
“I’m a little bit nervous with the cooler weather that we’ve had,” Lewko said.
The last half of July seldom saw the normal average high of 26 C, while overnight lows often fell to single digits, with some areas getting frost warnings.
“I think if we get to the 20th of September without a (killing) frost we’ll be fine,” Bergsma said.
Despite the recent cool spell, the number of corn heat units since May 1 is close to normal at the 61 weather stations monitored by Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.
It just seems bad when compared to last year’s “absolutely abnormal” weather, said Ingrid Kristjanson, a provincial farm production adviser at Morris.
Last year, seeding started in April, much of the winter wheat crop was harvested by Aug. 1, and a good chunk of the corn harvest was finished by the end of September and much of it was dry.
“Harvest this year for sure is going to be later,” Kristjanson said, adding most corn will likely have to be dried.
Most soybean and corn crops are on track, she said.
“If there’s an early frost, which can happen and has happened, that’s a problem, but if it’s an average year for our conditions, we should be OK.”
The exception could be farmers who planted later-maturing varieties not suitable for their area, Kristjanson said.
Both Lewko and Bergsma expect soybean and corn acres to continue rising in Manitoba.
“I don’t know what the number will be but there is room to go higher than 1.1 million (acres of soybeans),” Lewko said.
Slow growth is best for corn, Bergsma said, so new farmers get experience with the crop.