Nerves on edge as spring thaw remains elusive

It’s too early to start grumbling about another “year without summer” like 2004, but the forecast for the next month is for more colder-than-normal weather.

That’s the far-from-reassuring word from Peter Cherneski, manager of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s climate monitoring and forecasting service.

“It is unique,” said Cherneski. “The low temperatures that we’ve seen through almost all of April were certainly below normal and we’ve set some records.”

Factor in the amount of snow cover and the flood situation, and farmers could see their normal seeding start pushed back one to three weeks, he added.

“It could be even later if we get additional big storms or low temperatures continue,” said Cherneski.

Many farmers are wondering whether soil will warm up quickly enough to get long-season crops in the ground in a timely fashion.

“We’ll see what comes,” said Pam de Rocquigny, a cereal crops specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives.

“Guys will make adjustments as needed. I think most farmers do have a Plan B, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

Veteran corn growers will likely wait until the end of May before pulling the pin, but more nervous first-timers might opt to switch to shorter-season crops by an earlier date.

“Each individual producer has their own comfort level for when they start to panic or don’t panic. It’s wait and see at this point,” she said.

The province’s acting pulse crops specialist said it’s too early to predict what might happen to soybean acreage.

“Talk to me in about 10 days,” Dennis Lange said on April 17.

“We’re still in April and there’s still snow on the ground. At this point, things can happen quickly and the crop can get in the ground.”

The extra month of winter has stretched already-tight hay supplies to the limit, said Cam Dahl, general manager of the Manitoba Beef Producers.

“It’s really short. There’s a lot of producers in significant difficulties,” he said.

Describing the situation as “the perfect storm,” Dahl added that the problem has worsened due to the lingering effects of the flood of 2011, which first deluged and then turned barren many of the best hayfields.

Also, last summer’s drought reduced production, and freight subsidies offered by other jurisdictions sucked a good percentage of what was left out of the province, he said.

“We went into this winter short of hay, and with the long winter that is with us yet, there’s a significant number of producers who just don’t have any,” Dahl said.

Recent calls to hay sellers around the southwest found many of those who also have cattle are holding on to their inventories for fear that they, too, may end up running out.

Manitoba Beef Producers is encouraging hard-pressed ranchers to call their local representatives and MAFRI offices for advice on alternative rations for cattle, while at the same time it lobbies government to pay promised compensation for excessively dry and flooded areas.

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