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Soil moisture looks good: Survey

Newly released results of Manitoba Agriculture’s fall soil moisture survey are good news for Manitoba farmers worried last year’s dry summer could turn into a drought.

The soil moisture situation in many parts of Manitoba is normal, and even better than it was last spring, say Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiatives’ staff.

“It’s not looking nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be,” said Marla Riekman, the land management specialist who co-ordinates the annual survey.

That’s news she did not expect to deliver after last year’s dry summer, Riekman told her audience at St. Jean Farm Days earlier this month. She’d titled her presentation “running on empty.” That’s not actually the case.

“In a lot of parts of the province we are actually at or near where we want to be in terms of our averages for moisture at time of planting,” she said.

What happened? “We had October,” she said. “That saved the day.”

Most areas of Manitoba saw between two to 4-1/2 inches of rainfall within that two-week period and it penetrated the top foot of the soil.

Snow cover right now compared to last year is also better compared to 2011 and we still made it through the dry summer of 2012, she added.

“And we still have the rest of the winter,” said Riekman. “We’re already ahead of the game.”

Across a lot of Manitoba there is about three inches of soil moisture in the top foot of soil. The exception is southwestern Manitoba where it is drier.

The survey was conducted during the last week of October, and included samples taken to four-foot depths from 105 locations. Samples are always taken just before freeze-up because the amount of moisture within the root zone just prior is a good indicator of what will be there in spring.

The sites selected for the samples are chosen for how they represent both the soil properties and crops commonly grown in the region.

But MAFRI’s agricultural weather specialist says the situation south of the border is still worrisome.

Dry conditions are persisting south of the border, where there’s very little soil moisture and they’re also looking at an above-normal temperature forecast to the end of March, said Mike Wroblewski, who also spoke at St. Jean.

Manitoba’s rain comes from soil moisture evaporating from the soil in the U.S. Midwest and Dakotas and moving northward, he said.

“We need moist conditions throughout that whole area in the spring to generate enough moisture and get all of it up to us,” he said.

About the author

Reporter

Lorraine Stevenson

Lorraine Stevenson is a reporter and photographer for the Manitoba Co-operator with 25 years experience writing news and features. She was previously a reporter with the Farmers Independent Weekly and has also written for community newspapers in Winnipeg and Manitoba's Interlake.

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