Heat and lack of rain major growing issues

Prolonged heat and below normal rainfall are shaping up as the defining factors for this year’s growing season. They are affecting farmers and the entire agricultural industry in a multitude of ways. 

It’s common to get some summer days above 30 C. Getting weeks with temperatures almost steadily in that range hasn’t happened for a while. The lack of thunderstorm activity to accompany the high temperatures is quite remarkable.

There still should be many good crops on the Canadian Prairies, especially in central and northern regions, and even in many parts of the south. Credit the abundance of subsoil moisture. 

The seemingly endless rains of 2016 that created flooding, severe disease problems and one of the latest and longest harvests ever set up a soil moisture situation in which crops can survive despite this year’s heat and lack of meaningful precipitation. Many producers are marvelling at how their crops can look so good with so little growing season rain.

The subsoil may have been saturated, but virtually no rain during and after seeding hurt germination in some regions, producing a patchy, thin, uneven stand. Even where crops look very good and moisture has been more abundant, the heat has no doubt exacted a toll, particularly on flowering canola and field peas.

In regions plagued by excess moisture, the relatively dry spring and summer has actually been good news.

Pending what happens with the weather at harvest time, crop quality has the potential to be very good. There should be a marked improvement in the disease problems that downgraded last year’s production.

Despite the intentions of many producers to use more fungicide, sales are unlikely to see the spike expected by the industry. 

For cattle producers, hay quality should be good because it didn’t get rained on much after being cut. On the other hand, hay quantity in many regions will be below normal and well below what we’ve been seeing in the wet years.

Because dry conditions and crop losses intensify as you move south into the United States, prices for many commodities have been improving, particularly spring wheat, which has been a perennial dog for returns up until now. Upward movement in grain prices has occurred despite a strengthening Canadian dollar.

While it’s too early to make accurate production estimates, it’s safe to say this year won’t see a record crop in Western Canada. There will be crop insurance claims in some southern regions and strong yields in other areas, but overall a bumper crop is probably gone. 

No one knows how the rest of the growing season will evolve, but 2017 could set the groundwork for 2018. At the risk of sounding like an old timer, 1987-88 is remarkably similar to what we’ve seen this year. 

The 1987 crop in much of Saskatchewan was produced on the strength of the subsoil moisture from the fall rains of the previous year. It wasn’t great, but it was a lot better than the next year, when there was very little rain on top of precious little subsoil moisture.

Subsoil moisture is like money in the bank. It’s the main reason why this year’s crop won’t be a widespread disaster. Unless that reserve is replenished, it won’t be an ace in the hole going into 2018.

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