Prairie growing season gets off to a solid start — mostly

Despite a few late snow storms, spring seeding well ahead of recent years, about on par with long-term average

Seeding was off to a terrific start across the Prairies until weekend storms halted activity throughout much of Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta.

One storm delivered rain and snow across much of the eastern half of Alberta with a bulge between Edmonton and Calgary that extended to the Saskatchewan border.

The other storm covered a wide swath of central Saskatchewan, from the U.S. border to forest country in the north.

Most of the moisture that fell was in the form of rain but there was a large area around Saskatoon and a smaller area around Wetaskiwin, Alta., that received a huge dump of heavy snow.

The rain and snow are causing delays in some areas such as Wynyard, Sask., where Norm Hall was hoping to be seeding by May 1.

“We got an inch of rain, 24.5 milli-metres more than we needed,” he said. “That’s going to put us way back. The creeks are running as hard as they did at the height of the melt.”

He now expects to be in the fields by the middle of next week, which would still be ahead of last year.

Hall, who is president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, believes much of the Prairies is still seven to 10 days ahead of the last few springs.

Farmers in each of the three Prairie provinces say things are generally getting back to normal after a few unusually wet springs kept farmers off their fields in many regions. Early seeding bodes well for crop yield and quality.

Ron Krahn, a grower from Rivers, Man., started seeding his spring wheat on April 20, which is a couple of days earlier than the long-term average for his farm and well in advance of the last couple of years when the crop was planted in early May.

“So far, so good,” he said in an interview last week.

“Soil conditions are great. Nice moisture. Not too much, not too little.”

Steve Wiens, a grower from Wymark, Sask., began planting peas on April 18. That is eight to 10 days earlier than the last three years.

An early start usually results in improved yields and quality for crops in southwestern Saskatchewan.

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“If you can get it in early you can avoid some of that July heat stress that we typically get,” he said.

Wiens has seen forecasts calling for a dry summer.

“That’s one of the reasons I’m seeding early is to seal up the ground and capture the moisture that’s there and try to establish a strong, healthy crop before it does get dry,” he said.

Shane Mann, co-owner of Hanlon Ag Centre in Lethbridge, said some farmers are done seeding in southern Alberta while others are just starting, which isn’t unusual for that area.

He said planting progress is about as normal as it gets in his area and about five to seven days ahead of the last few years.

“I think if you look at most of Western Canada, they’re going to be ahead of where they were the last two or three years,” said Mann.

He spoke to one area farmer who is 40 days ahead of last year on one parcel of land. Others won’t be starting until May 15, so it is variable.

Most farmers in his area are optimistic about how the spring is shaping up.

“I haven’t run into anybody that’s complaining about moisture yet,” said Mann.

“If we get some timely rains things will be awesome. If we don’t, they won’t.”

Drew Lerner, president of World Weather Inc., is forecasting a dry summer for western Saskatchewan, eastern Alberta, southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba.

“Things will get a little bit crispy out there,” he said.

The first region to dry out will be eastern Alberta and western Saskatchewan starting in June and continuing into early- or mid-July.

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“That area tends to get dry under a lot of scenarios and I think that we’re moving down that road,” he said.

Southern Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba will have good precipitation in May and early June and then turn dry in July and August.

“There should be enough timely rainfall for a while here in May that there actually may be some isolated problems with surplus moisture,” said Lerner.

The dry conditions in July and August may be a welcome reprieve for some of the waterlogged farms in southeastern Saskatchewan and southwestern Manitoba.

“It will be a relatively good scenario I think as long as we don’t get hot and I don’t think it’s going to be exceptionally warm in those areas,” he said.

Krahn is a big fan of Lerner, so he is banking on a dry summer.

“That has factored into us starting as early as we have. Usually seeding early lets us use some of that early season moisture rather than seeding late in May and having given up a month of good growing conditions,” he said.

Krahn knows weather can change in a hurry, so he jumped on any opportunity to get crop in the ground.

“In 1999 we had excellent seeding conditions up until the fourth of May and then it started raining and never stopped. Years like that stick in your mind,” he said.

Lerner said one big concern is a higher-than-normal probability of a spring frost in eastern Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

“I have warned and warned and warned that I’m concerned there could be a shot of cold air in early June or late May,” he said.

“For some of these guys that are in a big hurry to get going, I think that they’re running a little higher risk of getting some damage done.”

Contact sean.pratt@producer.com

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