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Manitoba Farmers Struggle To Seed

Souris-area farmer Walter Finlay managed to seed two-thirds of his 2,900 acres in 2010. This year he hasn’t planted an acre.

“It’s a combination of the fact that we were so wet last year and then we had 3-1/2 inches in October so we went into winter wet and then we had a bunch of snow and we’ve had a pile of rain this spring,” he said in an interview May 27.

“I’d say now if I get in 350 acres I’ll be doing very well.”

He’s not alone. Continued wet weather combined with a hangover from last year’s heavy rains has raised the spectre of a new record for unseeded acres in the province this year.

A year ago 739,000 acres – the second highest on record – didn’t get sown before the June 20 crop insurance deadline due to excessive moisture. But this year, it’s even wetter and farmers are further behind.

An estimated 30 per cent of Manitoba’s 9.3 million cultivated acres have been sown, said Bruce Burnett, the Canadian Wheat Board’s (CWB), director of weather and market analyst.

A year ago 30 per cent of the crop was in by May 3 and 80 per cent by May 25, despite a wet May and June.

Those unplanted acres triggered $28 million in compensation on 635,000 acres (net of deductible) to farmers under crop insurance’s Excess Moisture Insurance (EMI).

A record 1.4 million acres went unseeded in 2005 prompting $58.3 million in payouts. 2011 looks ready to push that record aside.

By May 23 and June 6, 2005, 72 and 84 per cent of Manitoba’s crop had been seeded, respectively, said Burnett. Manitoba is way behind that this year.

And no wonder. Between April 1 and May 25 most of agro-Manitoba, which started off wet, had received well above the 30-year average rainfall, according to MAFRI data. Many areas have received even more rain than during the same period a year ago, which was also wetter than normal.

Carman, Dugald, Steinbach, Swan River and Boissevain all have had more rain than a year ago and Arborg three times more.

If another 1.5 to two inches of rain fell last weekend and Monday on already saturated soils that could end the seeding season for some, Burnett said.

“We’re already hearing that from parts of Saskatchewan and Manitoba too where there’s just so much water on the fields now that even if the weather straightens out is it going to be dry by crop insurance deadline (June 20) and sometimes the answer is no,” he said.

There’s still hope, if only it would stop raining. Manitoba farmers can plant at least 100,000 acres a day and probably more, if they can get on the land.

The CWB is estimating up to five million acres won’t get planted in Western Canada this spring because of wet fields.

“A good chunk of it would be in Manitoba,” Burnett said. “We’re probably looking at a couple of million (unseeded) acres in Manitoba and the balance in Saskatchewan.”

Every year some part of Western Canada struggles with it either being too wet or dry at seeding time, but it’s usually in smaller pockets, Burnett said.

“Generally speaking to lose more than a million acres on the Prairies from what farmers intended to plant has been pretty exceptional,” he said.

“What’s causing it? I don’t know, but certainly something is changing.”

To see a one-in-150-year flood on the Red River and then 12 years later have a one-in-300 flood on the Assiniboine River is “a pretty exceptional occurrence,” he said.

Finlay, who has farmed many years, hasn’t seen two years so wet back to back.

“If you go northwest of Souris there’s nothing done at all,” he said. “And there’s a big possibility there will be very little done this year.

Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives (MAFRI) estimated last week seeding was just 10 per cent completed in the southwest region.

“I know there are going to be some younger farmers who are going to find it mighty tough. They got half their crop in last year and what they got in was likely crop insurance and you can’t survive on crop insurance.”

The prospect of higher crops prices is just salt in the wound, Finlay said. Not only will the farmers who can’t seed miss it out, future production costs are likely to rise.

The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) is calling on the Manitoba government to increase EMI payments from $50 and $65 an acre to $70 and $80, respectively.

Agriculture Minister Stan Struthers hasn’t ruled it out, but has said it’s difficult to do after the crop insurance contract year has started.

KAP president Doug Chorney says another option is to run the Canada-Manitoba Excess Moisture Assistance Program (CMEMAP) again. Last year the federal-provincial program paid farmers $30 an acre on land that couldn’t be seeded because it was too wet or was seeded and then the crop drowned, less a deductible of a minimum of 25 acres, or five per cent of a farmer’s total annual crop acreage.

But payments should be higher this year to reflect high production costs, Chorney added.

About 1.74 million acres in Manitoba were unseeded or the crops were drowned in 2010. CMEMAP payments were made on 1.35 million acres totalling, $40.5 million.

While Manitoba farmers have until June 20 to seed wheat, barley, oats and flax, it’s too late for some crops in some areas.

The deadline for soybeans was May 30 in Areas 2 and 3. However, with reduced coverage those farmers have until June 4 to plant.

The deadline for soybean growers in Area 1 is June 6 and with reduced coverage June 11.

The deadlines for Argentine canola are June 10 and June 15, in Area 1 and 2, respectively. The extended deadlines are June 20 and 15. [email protected]

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TolosemorethanamillionacresonthePrairiesfromwhat farmersintendedtoplanthasbeenprettyexceptional.What’s causingit?Idon’tknow,butcertainlysomethingischanging.”

– BRUCE BURNETT

———

“GenerallyspeakingtolosemorethanamillionacresonthePrairiesfromwhatfarmersintendedtoplanthasbeenprettyexceptional.”

– BRUCE BURNETT

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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