Dry, hot summer leaves Manitoba yields in doubt

It’s been a strange growing season, and many producers aren’t sure what they’ll get this harvest

HOLLAND, Man. — On a sunny morning in mid-August, Les Ferris walked into the edge of a canola field, just east of his farmyard, and pulled a couple of plants out of the ground.

He looked at the tops for signs of heat blast, then inspected the bottom to assess the number of branches on the lower half of the plants.

The amount of aborted flowers and missing pods was minimal, considering his farm has been short on rain and that 30 C temperatures hammered the flowering crop in late July.

However, the number of branches was relatively low and the pods weren’t particularly long, possibly signs that the crop ran out of moisture in July.

Ferris said it won’t be a great crop, but it might be better than expected. Following a month of little rain and a week of severe heat at the end of July, Ferris had almost given up hope in early August.

“I didn’t think we’d have much of a crop,” he said.

A little rain fell in August on his farm, from five to 10 millimetres, which aided pod fill and gave Ferris new hope.

But at the end of the day he still expects below average yields.

“I don’t see it branched out, as much,” said Ferris, the Keystone Agricultural Producers representative for the region.

“I’m kind of preparing myself for the worst, maybe thinking 35 bu. an acre, (but) I had other guys looking and they figure 45 bu. an acre.”

Ferris isn’t alone in his uncertainty.

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It’s been a strange growing season, and many Manitoba producers are unsure if the pods on their canola or soybean crops will be full at harvest time.

Many areas of the province were exceptionally wet going into seeding. It was so wet in parts of the southwest that some producers, including Bill Campbell of Minto, Man., said they needed perfect conditions to get a crop in the ground.

“We’re looking at a very optimistic completion date of the fourth of June,” Campbell said April 20.

“Any weather that is detrimental to that (schedule) puts us in jeopardy of not being able to seed a crop.”

However, cool and dry weather arrived in May and farmers got seed in the ground. That was followed by more cool and dry weather in June, then warm and dry weather in July. The lack of moisture was considered a good thing in May but wore out its welcome by July.

Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers, in its Aug. 17 Bean Report, said many parts of the province received 50 to 70 percent of normal rainfall from May 1 until Aug. 13.

Rains in the first two weeks of August, ranging from five to 30 mm, benefited both soybeans and canola, but more rain is needed, especially for beans.

“You want those August rains during the pod filling stage,” Cassandra Tkachuk, a Manitoba Pulse & Soybean Growers production specialist, said in early August.

“Right now we definitely need some more (rain).”

Manitoba Agriculture, in its mid-August crop report, said the upper pods in some soybean fields are not filling, particularly in central Manitoba, because of dryness.

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Ferris also grew winter wheat on his farm, but yields were slightly disappointing, mostly because the crop lacked moisture. His winter wheat generated 55 to 60 bu. per acre, lower than previous years.

“It’s not a bad crop,” Ferris said. “But not the bumper crop we thought we might have.”

Cereal yields in other parts of central Manitoba are more promising. The provincial crop report said early yields for oats were 130 to 170 bu. per acre with good test weight.

Ferris won’t know his canola yield for a month or so, but there were other indicators that it could be below average.

The crop looked great closer to his driveway and the road: it was leaning over and the top was loaded with pods.

However, after pulling a few plants out, Ferris noticed that some lower branches had turned yellow and the pods on those branches looked shrivelled.

He speculated that sclerotinia may have caused the damage or possibly the plant abandoned the branches because it lacked moisture.

The sickly looking branches were disappointing, but Ferris took it in stride. In July he travelled through southern Saskatchewan and saw how drought had decimated crops in the region.

Crop yield, as with wealth, is relative.

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