Prairie production potential takes a beating

This year’s prairie harvest will not be a bin buster like it was last year. 


In fact, we’ll need some luck to just achieve an average crop across Western Canada.


There are certainly many areas, particularly on the western Prairies, that still have above average potential, but yields will be seriously curtailed in many other regions.


Record shattering production last year was based on almost all regions performing well. There weren’t many weak links in the chain.


This year has seen far too much rain, particularly in eastern Sask-atchewan and western Manitoba but in many other areas as well.


As this is being written, another general rain is forecast with large amounts expected in many of the areas that are already struggling.


Conventional wisdom is that rain makes grain. You lose a few water logged low spots, but you make it up with greater than normal yields elsewhere. While this could still hold true in some areas, in many more cases, the rain has simply been overwhelming. 


Although not as widespread as 2010, unseeded acreage is substantial. Some producers have little crop in the ground. Their year was over before it began. 


Even worse, a lot of land that was seeded has been lost, along with the investment in seed, fertilizer and weed control. Even when the land isn’t under water, the crop is often yellow from excess moisture. There will be some recovery if it stops raining, but yield potential has been lost.


The lateness of the crop is also a major concern. It’s July and the days are already getting shorter. It’s startling to see how many crops are just poking through the ground. Their development is more typical of early June.


We’ve been lucky with late crops before. It appeared improbable that last year’s crop would mature in time, but we were saved by hot weather in August and September and a much later than usual killing frost. The bin busting crop was also pretty good quality overall.


Miracles can repeat, but we shouldn’t count on it. The likely scenario is that many of the later crops will suffer frost damage, greatly reducing quality and perhaps also quantity.


Soggy field conditions have hampered weed control efforts. Many crops could not be sprayed at the optimal time. Some may miss their herbicide application altogether. There will be some extremely weedy fields. 


Lots of moisture will likely mean even more disease than usual. Producers will wrestle with how much fungicide application is warranted.


It’s more usual at this time of year to be talking about big regions that are suffering drought. Limited rainfall and hot weather in June has often fried crop potential somewhere on the Prairies by this juncture. 


We haven’t had any hot weather this year. Most of the time, the temperature has struggled to reach the low 20s C.


Protein levels in wheat and durum are likely to be lower than normal. A significant portion of the wheat could end up in the lower grades from frost and/or wet harvest weather, and more canola than usual could be downgraded due to frost. It could be a poor year to be trying soybeans.


Of course, weather patterns can change quickly and a lot can happen between now and harvest. However, based on current conditions, prairie yields are likely to be highly variable with overall production as well as quality down dramatically from last year.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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