Rain pulls farmers back from the brink

For some, it was a billion dollar rainfall. For others, it was the rainfall that gives this year’s crop a fighting chance. And for others still, it was the rainfall that came two to three weeks too late.

Any way you slice it, farmers across much of Western Canada’s grain-producing region received some much-needed relief last week from persistent drought conditions that have hindered crop development.

Rainfall amounts varied across Western Canada, ranging from a few millimetres in parts of southeastern Alberta and west-central Saskatchewan up to 80 mm or more in parts of southern Saskatchewan.

And in a few areas, growers were shut out altogether.

Cory Jacob, regional crop specialist with Saskatchewan Agriculture, said there is no doubt that yield potential has already been irreversibly compromised in many areas.

But last week’s precipitation provided a glimmer of hope for many growers, who not long ago were contemplating outright disaster.

“The areas of the province that needed it the worst for the most part got some rain,” said Jacob.

“But there are areas in the west-central part of the province that are still looking for a rain.”

For those who got moisture, it remains to be seen how crops will respond.

“On early-seeded crops that were up early and stressed, a lot of the damage has already been done,” Jacob said.

“Any crops that were later seeded … and are at a more juvenile growth stage, there’s definitely more potential there, but I think we’re kind of setting our sights now on an average yield.”

At Agriculture Canada, agroclimate maps dated June 23 show the vast majority of Saskatchewan’s grain belt receiving seven-day accumulations of 20 to 80 mm.

The notable exceptions were along the province’s eastern border with Manitoba, as well as an area in western Saskatchewan, stretching from around Leader toward Kindersley.

In southeastern Alberta, rainfall amounts were negligible and total accumulations are still well below normal.

In a June 24 email, Agriculture Canada agroclimate specialist Trevor Hadwen said many of the drought-stricken areas in the West received 50 to 75 mm of rain between June 16 and June 23.

“This certainly will help, but (it) will not solve the issues,” Hadwen said.

“We are still, overall, well below normal seasonal and longer-term precipitation.”

Recent rains will help many “but certainly there are still concerns.”

Bruce Burnett, director of markets and weather information with Glacier FarmMedia, offered a similar view, suggesting that prairie crops in general are in much better shape today than they were a week ago.

But harvest is a long way off and more rain will be needed.

“We had some good rains over the past week and when you add that to the previous week’s rains on parts of the eastern Prairies, we filled in a fairly large portion of the growing area with at least some precipitation,” Burnett said.

“Did it come too late? I would say in the driest areas … I think it probably did come a little too late.

“On the Prairies, you never turn precipitation down, but it would have been lovely if it had been two or three weeks earlier.”

Burnett said poor germination combined with recent rainfalls are likely to present challenges at harvest time.

Crops that were only partially germinated will likely have a late flush of plants, resulting in differential crop staging in many fields.

Late-germinating crops or crops that emerged normally but developed slowly will also need extra time to finish, he said.

In general, crop development across most of the West is a week to two weeks behind normal.

“We’re going to have to see a fairly clear fall for some of those crops to make it through to maturity.”

Overall yield potential will depend on the weather over the next few weeks, he added.

Prairie production is likely to be average at best.

Burnett also emphasized that this year’s crop will use moisture quickly so growers could find themselves desperately looking for more rainfall in early to mid-July.

“These rains have been … great but we’re going to need additional rainfall….”

Jacob agreed.

“We still need to see what happens here in the month of July,” he said.

“If we get a lot of hot, dry weather and a lot of heat blasting, that’s going to impact yields very heavily.

“The weather outlook for the month of July is going to dictate a lot, but overall, things are looking a lot better now than they did a week ago.”

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