Dry summer, early harvest

Harder-hit farmers are baling their crops for livestock feed as hot temperatures hammer yields

It’s shaping up to be a dry and early harvest across much of Western Canada this year, particularly in the southern grain belt.

High temperatures, extremely dry field conditions and lack of rainfall have caused crops to mature quickly and will result in lower-than-average yields in many areas, particularly south of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Crop development across much of the southern Prairies is a week to two weeks ahead of normal with combining of pea and lentil crops already underway in some areas.

“It’s definitely dry and definitely early,” said Mike Carefoot, a grower from Swift Current, Sask.

“There will be some yield loss for sure, but I guess we should be thankful for what we have out there, considering the very low rainfall that we’ve had this year.”

Carefoot said he was hoping to start harvesting early seeded field pea crops July 24-25.

That’s an early start, but not the first time that Carefoot has taken off pulse crops in late July.

“We’ve had to combine this early before when it’s this dry, but it seems to (be) about a week ahead of normal,” he said.

Carefoot’s farm, about 15 kilometres west of Swift Current, has had about 50 millimetres of rain over the past eight to 10 weeks.

Yield potential in his area and throughout southwestern Saskatchewan will be below average, although some growers will fare better than others, depending on soil moisture conditions at seeding time.

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“We’re lucky we had fall moisture to start us off,” Carefoot said.

The situation is more desperate in other parts of southern Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Yield potential in many areas is expected to be well below normal as crops continue to suffer under extremely hot and dry growing conditions, said Brent Flaten, integrated pest management specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture.

Grain growers are baling annual cereal crops for cattle feed in areas most severely affected by drought.

Hay supplies are also expected to be extremely short this year, so in some instances growers will be further ahead baling their crops and selling them as feed rather than harvesting grain where yields have been severely compromised.

Flaten said crop conditions and yield potential are variable across much of Saskatchewan.

In general, however, crops north of Highway 16 are in pretty good shape, those south of Highway 16 are more variable and those south of the Trans-Canada are suffering.

“The northern grain belt is generally in a lot better shape than the southern grain belt,” Flaten said.

“The worst hit areas are … south of Highway 1, west of Regina toward Leader and west of Weyburn,” he said.

In contrast, growers in the Saskatchewan’s far northeastern and far northwestern crop producing areas have received more than enough rain this year and are coping with flooded fields and extremely wet crop conditions.

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In southern Alberta, dryland harvest is already underway, said Lynn Jacobson, a grower from Enchant, Alta., southeast of Calgary.

Jacobson said early harvested pea crops in his area are yielding 14 to 15 bushels per acre and winter wheat is coming in at 10 to 20 bu.

“It’s dry, dry, dry,” he said.

“It’s going to be a below average crop, for sure.”

Jacobson said yield potential on dryland farms will vary from area to area, depending on localized rainfall amounts.

In general, however, the 2017 crop will be smaller than average across much of southern Alberta.

Crop conditions and potential yields are generally better in the province’s central and northern grain growing regions, but crops in some parts of the province were late going in.

An early frost could cause considerable damage in some areas.

Despite variable rainfall amounts over the past two weeks, Manitoba has also been dry this year.

According to Manitoba Agriculture’s most recent crop weather report, only three of 95 reporting locations across the province recorded normal or above normal precipitation amounts between May 1 and July 16.

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