Spring seeding progress ahead of schedule amid worsening drought

Farmers in Saskatchewan are on the homeward stretch of their busy spring seeding season.

According to the most recent weekly crop report from Saskatchewan Agriculture, the province’s growers had nearly three quarters of their acres seeded as of May 20.

With mostly clear weather expected to continue through to the end of the month and no significant rain in the short-term forecast, seeding could be nearing completion by June 1, said Cory Jacob, provincial crop specialist.

However, growers across the entire province will be looking for moisture almost as soon as the seeding equipment is parked, Jacob added.

“In most areas, I think we have enough moisture to get the crops germinated but we won’t have much more than that,” he said.

“We’re going to need rain to carry the crop through.”

“Especially when plants get a bit bigger and start using a lot more water, if they don’t have (adequate moisture) it won’t be an ideal situation.”

Moisture conditions are variable across the province but there are few if any areas of the province where moisture is abundant.

The province’s southwestern corner, normally among the driest parts of the province, is actually in the best shape, thanks to a thick, wet snowfall in early May.

But in most other areas, the lack of topsoil moisture is a concern.

In some regions, shallow-seeded crops like flax, mustard and canola will need additional moisture to ensure consistent germination, Jacob said.

Trevor Hadwen, agro-climate expert with Agriculture Canada, said a record dry spring combined with consecutive years of drought has many farmers — especially those in central Saskatchewan — facing extremely dry conditions.

“Depending on where you’re looking, there has been some improvement (over the past few weeks) but through Saskatchewan and Manitoba, conditions continue to deteriorate fairly rapidly,” he said.

“We went into the spring with soil moisture deficits in most of those areas from previous years of drought and we’ve now had three consecutive months of very dry conditions,” he added.

“Obviously that’s helped seeding progress. We’re well ahead of normal for seeding (at this time of year) but I would suspect at this point that most farmers wouldn’t mind a couple of days of rain, even if it means delaying seeding a bit, just to get more moisture into the ground.”

In its most recent Prairie drought map dated April 30, the Canadian Drought Monitor at bit.ly/2KW4AfB showed abnormally dry or moderate to severe drought conditions across almost the grain growing region of Western Canada.

The Drought Monitor’s next map, due out on May 31, is expected to show worsening conditions based on a record dry May that affected much of Saskatchewan and Manitoba.

Jacob said drought conditions in many parts of the province have prompted many growers to adjust yield targets and reduce inputs.

For others, the lack of moisture, combined with market concerns, has prompted changes to seeding plans, with many growers opting for crops that are more drought tolerant and require fewer inputs.

Hadwen said growers in southwestern Saskatchewan and parts of Alberta have received some moisture, but during the past 90 days, producers across a significant portion of central Saskatchewan are experiencing a spring drought that is a one-in-50-year-event — meaning 49 out of 50 years will typically receive more spring precipitation.

And with little or no soil moisture reserves left, crops this year will depend totally on new rain.

“We’re looking at some pretty abnormally dry conditions right now … conditions that we haven’t seen in quite a few years,” Hadwen said. “But probably the biggest thing for agricultural producers is the cumulative effects of the last three years,” he added.

“We’re going on our third year of drought (in 2019) and the systems in agriculture tend not to be equipped to be really resilient at that length of drought so we’re starting to see more concerns, both in terms of water supplies and in terms of feed supplies.”

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