Persistently cool, wet weather during the last part of August and the first two weeks of September has thrown a nasty curveball at prairie farmers who still have crops in the field.
As of late last week, about 40 percent of total western Canadian acreage had yet to be harvested.
Most unharvested acres are in central and northern Saskatchewan and northern Alberta, where wet weather has caused delays.
In those regions, rain has washed away realistic hopes that yet-to-be-harvested cereals will qualify for top grades.
“It’s pretty frustrating,” said Jeff Mathieson, who farms between Humboldt and Watson in central Saskatchewan.
“There’d be at least 75 percent of the crop still out in the field in our area (as of Sept. 16) and field conditions are extremely wet.… These aren’t the worst conditions we’ve ever had, but this is probably the most water we’ve ever had in areas where there is good crop to harvest.”
Mathieson said low spots that produced above average yields on his farm are now sitting in at least 25 centimetres of water.
Machines that have big rubber are still able to operate in the area, but harvest progress is slow and the number of abandoned acres is mounting.
Tow ropes are considered mandatory equipment on most fields.
“The toughest job on the farm this year is running the combine and trying to keep it from getting stuck,” said Mathieson, who estimated that each acre harvested from now until freeze-up will take twice as much fuel as normal and twice as much time.
“Fortunately, we haven’t got our combine stuck yet, but a lot of people have.… Just by looking around, you can see there’s a lot tractors parked in fields with tow ropes or tow straps on them and there’s a lot of holes in the fields where machines have been pulled out.”
Bruce Burnett, weather and markets analyst with G3 Global Grain Group, said harvest progress is variable across the West. He said most wheat harvested between now and the end of the year will likely will be downgraded to No. 3 or feed.
A limited number of barley acres are likely to meet malting specifications, he added.
“We’ve had so much rain here in the last two weeks or so that we’re now getting into a situation where fields are saturated, and it’s making fields marginally passable.”
In the Tisdale, Sask., area, harvest started well in first week of September, said Kim Stonehouse, a regional crop specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.
However, rain during the next week and a half sidelined combines.
“Over the past week, we’ve had a fair amount of rain in the region and it’s been fairly widespread,” Stonehouse said Sept. 16.
Stonehouse said growers in the northeast need a good stretch of warm, dry weather to advance harvest and keep things on track.