WINNIPEG (CNS) – While it has been a cold winter with little snow cover there is still hope for the Canadian Prairies’ winter wheat crop as soil temperatures haven’t hit danger levels yet.
“I checked the soil temperatures this morning across the Prairies and most of the soils are about -10 C and winter wheat at this stage can still handle that level of coldness … so I think in most areas we are still OK,” said Ken Gross, director with Winter Cereals Manitoba and agrologist with Ducks Unlimited Canada, adding winter wheat can handle soil temperatures as cold as -16 C.
Temperatures throughout the winter in Western Canada have dipped to the -30 C to -40 C range numerous times, with most of the Prairies south of the Trans-Canada Highway being plagued with little to no snow cover.
“There’s a general lack of snow cover across the southern Prairies. So it sure would be nice to alleviate our concerns if we got a little bit of snow and hopefully warm up a little bit here too,” Gross said.
The Canada Drought Monitor map from Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada as of Jan. 31 shows a dismal picture. There are severe drought conditions in a pocket in southern Alberta and throughout south central Saskatchewan, while the situation is dire around Regina and Weyburn where there are extreme drought conditions. The news is better in Manitoba where there are only moderate drought conditions in the southwestern area of the province.
There are parts of the Prairies that do have snow cover. North of Winnipeg there has been adequate snow cover blanketing the fields for most of the winter.
“Up here in our area we’ve had good snow cover for most of the year. So anyone who put winter wheat in I think is going to be OK so far,” said Doug Martin, interim executive director of Winter Cereals Manitoba, who farms near East Selkirk, Man.
Although there is still a chance winter wheat crops could become damaged. As the winter progresses winter wheat tends to lose its hardiness.
“March is more of a month that can do more damage on the winter wheat. So that’s where we’ve seen in past years more of the damage,” Martin said.
For the drier areas if the winter continues without snow producers should plan to apply nitrogen as soon as possible in the spring, according to Gross.
“If the crop is coming out of the winter a little bit weak, it needs a little bit help … the fertility will help it grow quickly and move through that very successfully,” he said.
The lack of moisture isn’t just affecting Canadian winter wheat crops, south of the border crops are struggling as well. In the wheat outlook report released Feb. 12 by the United States Department of Agriculture, it said there hasn’t been any significant precipitation in the last four months across the Southern Plains which has intensified drought conditions causing further deterioration of winter wheat crops.
According to Gross, the U.S. usually loses about 10 per cent of their winter wheat crop due to winter-kill every year. The U.S. planted 32.6 million acres of winter wheat according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Winter Wheat Seeding report released Jan. 12, which is down one per cent from 2017.
In Canada winter wheat acres are down as well. According to Statistics Canada 335,000 acres of winter wheat were seeded in the fall in Western Canada compared to 535,000 acres the previous year.
This isn’t surprising to Gross. Farmers told him they hadn’t seeded as much winter wheat due to the dry conditions which plagued the Prairies last summer.
“There was interest in seeding winter wheat last fall but it was just so dry it was hard. Guys were really reticent to get out there and seed into concrete,” he said.