Prairie farmers who were unable to harvest all of their crops last fall will be keeping their fingers crossed for an early spring.
An estimated two to 2.5 million acres of unharvested crop across western Canada will need to be cleaned up before spring seeding.
An early spring with consistently mild temperatures would be hugely beneficial to growers who are faced with harvesting last year’s crop and planting a new one in the same busy spring season.
“We’re actually hoping for warm weather so that the snow melts and we can get some combining done before we’re supposed to be seeding,” said Kevin Bender, who farms near Sylvan Lake, Alta.
“This is kind of new territory for a lot of people … so we’ll just have wait and see what happens.”
Bender said a significant number of prairie growers will be under the gun this year, trying to balance seeding operations with what’s left of last year’s harvest.
Last week, Saskatchewan agriculture minister Lyle Stewart said approximately 1.3 million acres have yet to be harvested in Saskatchewan.
Those acres are spread throughout the province, although unharvested acres are most common in the west-central region.
“There’s about 1.3 million acres that did not get harvested last fall and that is always an issue going into the following crop year,” Stewart said.
“That material has to be harvested and taken off the field before any seeding can happen there.”
In Alberta, the Agriculture Financial Services Corp. estimated in mid-January that more than one million acres had yet to be harvested in the province.
Unharvested acres are greatest in the Alberta’s northeast, northwest and Peace River districts, where extremely wet field conditions last fall sidelined harvest crews.
Manitoba’s unharvested area is estimated at 100,000 acres.
Bender said growers with unharvested acres are concerned primarily with managing their fields and getting them prepared for planting.
However, extra effort may be required when it comes to marketing spring-harvested crops.
At this point, growers who have unharvested cereals are probably not too concerned about further deterioration of grain quality.
Grain quality has already been affected, and any cereals that are harvested this spring will almost certainly be sold as feed, he said.
However, excrement from rodents, deer and other wildlife could further affect the marketability of feed grains, he said.
“I think one of the biggest concerns is going to be excreta from deer and mice,” he said.
“I don’t know how that’s going to play out either or if that’s going to end up being a problem, but I know it can be an issue.”
Marketing spring-harvested canola could also be problematic.
Some grain companies have indicated that prices for spring-harvested canola will be discounted to account for changes to the oil profile.
Sources in the grain industry say other companies have informed growers that they will not be buying spring-harvested canola at any price.
It is not entirely clear how the oil quality of spring-harvested canola is affected, but growers are encouraged to have all spring-harvested oilseeds and cereals lab-tested to ensure they are receiving full value for their commodities.
Jeremy Welter, who farms near Kerrobert, Sask., about two hours west of Saskatoon, said crops that have been sitting out through the winter are prone to many types of quality damage.
“There’s always the moisture issue, so when you have a mild winter like this, you’ve got snow that’s melting on the crops and the temperature allows that moisture to penetrate the seed, obviously causing germination issues … but it also causes issues with a variety of different types of funguses and molds and seed rots,” he said.
“And of course there’s always the ever-present factor of rodents in the field. … I guarantee you that if walk along a swath and kick it over you’re going to find mice underneath there.… Just the fact that it’s been so warm recently means that the mice and the rodents are definitely mobile and there’s a very, very easily accessible food source. That’s also going to mean a drop in quality and a drop in grade at the elevator when you bring in samples that are full of mice feces.”