Major setback or minor disruption?

It is clear that heavy rains have caused yield and quality damage to this year’s lentil crop but it’s too early to assess the extent of the damage, say experts.

Much of the prime lentil growing region of Saskatchewan has received excess summer rainfall.

A wide swath, stretching from the southwestern corner of the province to the northeast, received between 150 to more than 200 percent of normal rainfall between June 15 and July 14.

Lentils is a crop that doesn’t like wet feet, so there are mounting concerns about yield and quality.

Sherrilyn Phelps, agronomy manager with Saskatchewan Pulse Growers, said it is too early to draw conclusions about how much damage the downpours caused.

It all depends on what type of weather farmers get from now through harvest.

“If we have a wet August and September, quality (problems) could be huge, but we don’t know. That’s totally guessing,” she said.

“We need Mother Nature to now shut the tap off for a couple of months, or at least turn it down.”

Crops in the west-central region around Rosetown where there is heavy clay soil are “going backwards,” said Phelps.

By contrast, those in the southwestern corner of the province around Maple Creek and Swift Current, where there is lighter soil, are in great shape.

She is already seeing crops with sclerotinia and root rot and expects more disease problems as time goes on because of the high humidity and heavy crop canopy.

“You pull the canopies apart and it is wet. Like your hands are even wet as you put them down into the canopies,” said Phelps.

Those thick canopies make it difficult for fungicides to get where they need to go.

Allan Wagner, chief executive officer of Prairie Pulse Inc., said there is definitely going to be damage from flooding, moulds and disease, but there are always setbacks of some sort during the growing season.

“It’s not unlike problems that are encountered every year to be honest. It’s no different than losing crops to hailstorms or anything else,” he said.

There is likely still a record crop on the way given that farmers planted an estimated 5.8 million acres of lentils, which is 48 percent more than last year.

“Typically rain makes grain. It’s just a matter that there’s going to be a large variance in quality this year,” said Wagner.

He is far more concerned about what kind of weather there will be at harvest because that’s when widespread quality damage can occur.

“The harvest is definitely going to be earlier than previous years and that bodes well for a better quality,” said Wagner.

He predicts that harvest will begin by Aug. 10 compared to the recent trend of farmers getting underway near the end of August or early September, when rains are more likely.

Wagner agreed with Phelps that it is too early to make prognostications about this year’s crop at this stage of the growing season because a bout of hot and windy weather could change everything.

“Everybody is looking for a reason for the market to go up in price,” he said. “Honestly, I think their hope is going to be dashed. Are there quality problems out there? Yes. But the reality is that rain makes grain.”

Elyce Simpson Fraser, director of marketing and business development with Simpson Seeds, said they won’t have a handle on the extent of crop damage for a week or two.

The one thing that is apparent from inspections of fields surrounding the company’s head office in Moose Jaw is that the rains have delayed crop development.

“Where we thought we were maybe 10 to 15 days ahead, that might not necessarily be the case. We’re kind of back to normal, sort of thing,” she said.

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