Recent showers generate a glimmer of hope

It’s difficult to know if the weather pattern has changed, but some of the parched regions of Western Canada finally received a bit of rain. Unfortunately, over a big chunk of Saskatchewan, a full drought recovery is no longer possible.

While crop conditions vary dramatically from one localized area to another and even one field to the next, some salient observations are possible.

First of all and this is quite obvious, the moisture deficit is huge and it will need to rain a lot. General soaking rains would be preferable to the thundershower lottery. Either way, the time when crops need to take up a lot of water is yet to come.

No matter what happens, yields are going to be significantly depressed in the regions that received little or no rain in May and the first half of June. On many cereals and pulses, the dry start to the year has placed a cap on yield potential. Canola is more resilient and has greater potential to recover from early season drought.

Crops seeded early that established properly will have a drought-shortened growing period. Watch for some field peas to be combined in late July and early August.

At the other end of the scale, fields with poor emergence have a late start and will need a lot of time to mature. Many canola crops won’t even start to flower until well into July. If there’s lots of rain, these crops may have superior yield potential, but they could also be at risk of frost damage in the fall.

During the normal time for herbicide applications, many producers struggled with what to do. The crop looked bad and weed growth was limited. Why spend more money on a crop that looked destined to fail? With rain will come weeds, but in many cases the crop will be too advanced for the required herbicide.

Fungicide applications will see an even bigger decline than weed killers. It’s one place to save money.

Crop insurance offices in Saskatchewan have been busy with establishment claims leading up to the seeding deadlines. The potential exists for huge crop loss payouts once harvest concludes.

While crop insurance could be an important source of income, hail insurance purchases will likely be down. Producers are less inclined to insure a crop that has below average yield potential.

For cow-calf producers, the first significant rains came too late to save the hay crop. Hay production will be dismal and pastures are bad. The feed shortage is going to cause a selloff of cows. Unfortunately, areas with above average hay and pasture are few and far between. The beef breeding herd could see a further reduction.

Cattle producers should be talking to their grain farming neighbours. Where crops failed to establish, it’s now too late to seed a crop for grain production. However, if it keeps raining, green feed production will be viable. It should be possible to work out arrangements that are mutually beneficial.

Recent showers have provided a glimmer of hope in some regions. Hopefully, we’ll move into a more normal precipitation pattern. A wet spell would be ideal. Unfortunately, there’s also a chance that the tap will again turn off and the summer heat will crank up, aggravating an already difficult growing season.

Kevin Hursh is an agricultural journalist, consultant and farmer. He can be reached by e-mail at kevin@hursh.ca.

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