Seeding likely late in western Manitoba

Fields are still waterlogged, but farmers are confident they will be able to plant a crop this year

SOURIS, Man. — The first week of April looked more like mid-March in southwestern Manitoba.

Bushes around farmyards and tree lines next to fields had two to three metres of snow. As well, patches of snow and drifts re-mained on most of the cropland around Souris.

Fields were waterlogged and there was more snow than water in ditches.

However, producers and provincial extension agents say most of the cropland should be ready for spring seeding in early to mid-May.

“I don’t think the concern is as big anymore. We’re just at the beginning of April,” said Lionel Kaskiw, Manitoba Agriculture’s farm production adviser in the area.

“I think guys are gearing up for beginning of May seeding (around Souris).”

The deep snow in ditches and tree lines as of April 6 was caused by an early March blizzard in western Manitoba and eastern Saskatchewan.

The storm closed the Trans-Canada Highway for about three days, and snowdrifts engulfed half-ton trucks parked in farmyards.

Many producers thought the snow would stick around well into April, but little to no precipitation since the blizzard may have salvaged spring seeding for many producers.

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Environment Canada’s weather station in Brandon recorded only five millimetres of precipitation from March 8 until April 6.

The area remains wet because soil moisture levels were high going into the winter, but field conditions are improving.

Kaskiw, who has spoken to a number of farmers, said producers are feeling more hopeful about spring seeding.

The optimism is needed because extremely wet springs have become a regular occurrence in southwestern Manitoba. In 2011, a cool and wet spring washed out any hope of seeding a crop for many farmers. Almost three million acres of land went unseeded that year in Manitoba, with the bulk of the acres in the southwest.

The situation around Souris may have improved, but conditions might be worse to the south.

Scott Chalmers, Manitoba Agriculture’s diversification specialist in Melita, said in early April that farmland in the area is “soaking wet.”

Nonetheless, most producers in the Melita region should be on the land by the second week of May if the weather in April is decent.

“There’s a good chance that 80 percent of the crop will be in without too much hassle,” he said.

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“But there’s still 20 percent (that’s uncertain).”

Fields were much drier north of the Trans-Canada Highway near Rivers, Rapid City and Neepawa.

Snow, sometimes three metres deep, was a common sight within tree bluffs, but only a few fields had snow or large ponds of water, and ditches were relatively dry for the first week of April.

Fields are drying up, but roads, culverts and other infrastructure could be damaged by the snow melt and runoff. For example, several roads in the Assiniboine River Valley looked more like lakes, and detour signs were posted.

Bill Nicholson, who farms near Shoal Lake, is worried about access to land. Certain fields could be difficult to get to, or it might take 20 minutes rather than five minutes to reach by tractor.

“You can see the field half a mile away, but it’s five miles to get there by a more circuitous route.”

Barring a major rainfall, farmers around Shoal Lake could be seeding in four weeks.

“We’re probably looking at the first week of May, of the possibility of doing anything,” Nicholson said.

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“Assuming things go well from here.”