Smaller harvest likely to take longer

Variable crop quality between northern and southern regions expected to cause headaches for grain companies

Farmers and grain companies are preparing for a prolonged harvest and a below-average crop.

Provincial specialists are forecasting smaller than usual crops in Alberta and Saskatchewan because of hot and dry conditions.

That is a view shared by the Western Grain Elevator Association, which is forecasting a 60 million tonne harvest in Western Canada, down from the previous five-year average of 67 million tonnes.

“(It) is still a fairly large crop,” said executive director Wade Sobkowich, who noted that Manitoba’s crops are looking good for the most part.

The association had been forecasting 65 to 67 million tonnes a couple of months ago before unusually hot and dry conditions sapped yields.

Quality is expected to be good in the southern portion of the Prairies where it has been dry and then deteriorate as the harvest moves north into the wetter areas.

Harvest will be about two weeks early in the south and two weeks late in the north, so it will be a long, drawn-out process this year.

“Last year we also had an extended harvest, so we’ve had some recent experience,” said Sobkowich.

“The main issue isn’t the length of time it takes to get the crop off the field but the variation in quality.”

Grain companies are going to have to be careful to meet but not exceed customer grade specifications with the better quality, early-harvested wheat and durum so they can save some of it for blending with poorer quality, late-harvested crop.

Mark Cutts, crop specialist with Alberta Agriculture, said peas and winter wheat were being harvested in the south last week, which is about two weeks ahead of normal.

Some fields in central Alberta are also further along than usual, but it’s a different story in the north and Peace region, where many fields are two weeks behind.

“Those fields that were seeded late are going to need all the season they can get,” he said.

He believes yields will be below average, especially if farmers in the north and Peace region are unable to escape frost or snow.

Cutts expects good quality and high protein in the south and poorer quality in the north.

Todd Lewis, president of the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan, said the pulse crop harvest was in full swing last week in the south.

“It’s at least two weeks ahead of normal, maybe three,” he said.

Lewis said most farmers will take a harvest day in August as opposed to November, but an early crop usually means lower yields.

“Hopefully what we’ve lost in quantity here we’re going to make up a little bit on quality,” he said.

Shannon Friesen, acting cropping management specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said some crops are just coming out of flowering in the north, where a late start to the year has them behind schedule, although the heat has helped them catch up a bit.

Crops in the south should avoid frost and harvest rains and there hasn’t been much disease, so quality is expected to be good.

“Producers are looking forward to at least getting it into the bin prior to any quality issues we may have,” she said.

Friesen is forecasting below average yields for the province because the good crops in the north are unable to fully compensate for the poor crops south of the Trans-Canada Highway.

Ann Kirk, cereals specialist with Manitoba Agriculture, is not anticipating an extended harvest in that province.

“I wouldn’t say it’s abnormal. We aren’t seeing any big differences in harvest time,” she said.

It has been hot and dry in southwestern, central and parts of northwestern Manitoba, causing premature ripening and potential yield loss.

However, the eastern and Interlake regions have experienced closer to normal precipitation.

Kirk had no yield estimate for the province.

“In general things are looking good, but in some of those dry areas we would clearly expect to see some yield losses,” she said.

She is anticipating good quality for the majority of the crops because a lot of the province has received less than 60 percent of normal precipitation, which has kept disease at bay.

“We’ve seen low levels of fusarium in the fields,” said Kirk.

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